Junk Food Isn’t Making You Happy: The Link Between Ultra-Processed Foods and Mental Health


We’ve long heard that consuming junk food can have negative effects on our physical health, but a new revelation highlights its detrimental impact on our mental well-being as well. Researchers from Melbourne have discovered a more profound connection between ultra-processed foods and depression than previously understood.

A study conducted in Melbourne delves into the alarming relationship between a diet rich in ultra-processed foods and heightened risk of mental disorders, especially among teenagers. With mental health issues significantly contributing to global disease burdens, the study aimed to unveil how poor diet quality might serve as a modifiable risk factor for depression. Drawing data from the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study, which included 23,299 participants aged 13 to 17, the research found that those who consumed the highest amount of processed foods had a 14% higher likelihood of experiencing mental health challenges.

Interestingly, the study’s findings remained consistent even after considering other factors such as smoking, education, income, and physical activity, known to impact health outcomes. Dr. Melissa Lane from Deakin University emphasised that ultra-processed foods’ impact on mental well-being stood independently from these other variables.

The concerning implications extend beyond the younger generation, as the study also pointed to distressing trends in older adults. Among adults aged 50 and above, elevated consumption of ultra-processed foods correlated with increased psychological distress over a 15-year period.

Notably, highly processed foods like soft drinks, packaged snacks, and pre-prepared meals appear to be the primary culprits. To combat this, experts advise a shift towards nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats from sources like grass-fed beef, fish, and avocados.

This study’s revelations underscore the urgent need for comprehensive public health strategies that consider nutrition as a crucial component of mental well-being.