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Too Much Fast Food May Be Linked To Teen Depression

A recent study suggests a diet high in fast food, with few fruits and vegetables, produces high levels of sodium and low rates of potassium that may contribute to depression.

A recent study suggests fast food is one possible reason teen depression is on the rise in the U.S. It went up 52 percent between 2005 and 2017.

Thestudy examined urine from a group of middle school students with diets high in fast food. Researchers found high levels of sodium, indicitative of highly processed food, and low rates of potassium, suggesting they didn't eat enough fruits and vegetables.

Rachel Trammell is a registered dietitian with Parkland Hospital System. She says “If you eat fast food and boxed food and frozen food all day, every day, you are going to be deficient in vitamins and you are going to need a supplement of some sort.”

Trammell says high sodium and low potassium levels alone won’t trigger depression, but they can contribute to a lack of energy that could affect your sense of well-being and mental health.


Impact of too much fast food: "When it comes to depression, I think that this study really points to the fact that it's the overall diet that can lead to depression, specifically because if you're eating fast food every day, for example, then you are deficient in some vitamins and minerals like B vitamins and other things that aren't sodium and potassium."

Most of the people in the study were low income teens: "Making healthy food doesn't have to be really expensive, but it can be unattainable for some people. And driving through McDonald's to get the dollar menu item might be better and easier at that point."

Alternatives: "There are ways to make healthy meals that are less expensive. For instance, a sheet pan dinner for your family: Two bags of frozen vegetables, a dollar each. A whole chicken for four or five dollars. So for six dollars, you got enough chicken for two meals and you have your vegetables for one meal. You probably would have spent that much or more at the fast food place."

The overall problem: "Whenever you're stuck in a rut, it's really hard to see your way out sometimes. It's really about having a balanced diet and the overall things that you eat. So you would want things like whole grains of rice, potatoes and vegetables, like broccoli or cauliflower, carrots and then meat like chicken, beef, pork. All of those things are fine."

Can you make better choices when eating fast food? "Let's say McDonald's, right? A quarter pounder with cheese has 1,200 milligrams of sodium. I don't know many people who don't have a quarter pounder without the fries. Right. So that's about 1,300 milligrams. If you take away the two slices of cheese, you're getting rid of about 700 milligrams of salt right there."


Fast Food/Teen Depression Study

CNN: Teen Depression Study

NIH: Teen Depression

Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.