BACKGROUND: Observational studies suggest that dietary patterns may impact mental health outcomes, although biologically plausible pathways are yet to be tested. We aimed to elucidate the longitudinal relationship between dietary patterns, adiposity, inflammation and mental health including depressive symptoms in a population-based cohort of adolescents.
METHODS: Data were provided from 843 adolescents participating in the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study at 14 and 17 years (y) of age. Structural equation modelling was applied to test our hypothesised models relating dietary patterns, energy intake and adiposity (body mass index) at 14 y to adiposity and the pro-inflammatory adipokine (leptin) and inflammation (high sensitivity C-reactive protein - hs-CRP) at 17 y, and these inflammatory markers to depressive symptoms (Beck Depression Inventory) and Internalising and Externalising Behavioral Problems (Child Behavior Check List Youth Self- Report) at 17 y. We further tested a reverse hypothesis model, with depression at 14 y as a predictor of dietary patterns at the same time-point.
RESULTS: The tested models provided a good fit to the data. A 'Western' dietary pattern (high intake of red meat, takeaway, refined foods, and confectionary) at 14 y was associated with higher energy intake and BMI at 14 y, and with BMI and biomarkers of inflammation at 17 y (all p<0.05). A 'Healthy' dietary pattern (high in fruit, vegetables, fish, whole-grains) was inversely associated with BMI and inflammation at 17 y (p<0.05). Higher BMI at 14 y was associated with higher BMI (p<0.01), leptin (p<0.05), hs-CRP (p<0.05), depressive symptoms (p<0.05) and mental health problems (p<0.05), all at 17 y.
CONCLUSION: A 'Western' dietary pattern associates with an increased risk of mental health problems including depressive symptoms in adolescents, through biologically plausible pathways of adiposity and inflammation, whereas a 'Healthy' dietary pattern appears protective in these pathways. Longitudinal modelling into adulthood is indicated to confirm the complex associations of dietary patterns, adiposity, inflammation and mental health problems, including depressive symptoms.