Can diet and nutrition affect learning, behaviour and mental health?

Can diet and nutrition affect learning, behaviour and mental health?

Nutridate, Warringal Publications

About 13 years ago I put out a media release to recruit volunteers for my PhD research. It investigated the effects of omega-3s and micronutrients on learning and behaviour in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One of the journalists who interviewed me asked ‘Why are you interested in this topic; I mean, we all eat what we eat and we’re all okay?’

We are not all okay. Overweight and obesity have doubled in the past 20 years, now afflicting nearly two-thirds of Australians – this includes one in four children and teenagers. Chronic diseases are a modern epidemic, with heart disease the leading cause of death in countries like Australia. These diseases are directly related to lifestyle factors such as poor diet and inadequate physical activity.

The journalist’s well-meaning question highlighted to me that people don’t really seem to make the connection between what we eat and our health – and this particularly applies to how we think, feel and behave. Mental health problems carry the fourth largest burden of disease, affecting nearly half of Australians aged 18-65 at some stage in their life, and one in nine Australians have a coexisting physical and mental health problem.

Mental health problems like depression, anxiety, ADHD and conduct disorder affect one in seven children and teenagers. Of course, many factors contribute to these psychological diseases,  like genes and environmental circumstances – but what about diet and nutrition?


Published in: Nutridate (2016), August 2016, Warringal Publications.

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