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We all know that regularly consuming fast food is bad for our waistlines and physical health, but less known are the mental health hazards of that kind of diet. New research has emerged linking fast food to depression and bad moods.
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What’s the connection?
Researchers at the University of Las Palamas in Gran Canaria published a study which assessed the relationship between consuming fast food and processed sweets and the risk of developing clinical depression. They examined a group of 8,964 participants’ dietary habits over 6.2 years and collected data on a range of variables that may have influenced the relationship between their eating habits and depression. Such factors included age, sex, body mass index, smoking status, and exercise. Through the use of mail-in questionnaires, researchers tracked participants’ intakes of fast food and processed sweets, along with whether they had been diagnosed with clinical depression or had been prescribed antidepressants during the course of the study.
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What did they find?
The data revealed that participants with the highest consumption of fast food and processed sweets tended to be younger, single, less active, and had a 37 percent increased risk of developing depression compared to those with more healthy eating habits. Out of an overall 493 reported cases of clinical depression, 97 were reported among participants with the lowest consumption of fast food and 118 cases were reported in the group with highest fast food consumption. Therefore, the study concluded that as fast food consumption increases, so does the risk for depression.
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What does this mean?
While the study found an association between consuming high levels of fast food and depression, it can’t definitively show that eating these foods is a direct cause of depression. Other contributing factors which are potentially associated with depression can’t be ruled out, such as genetics or the fact that most participants who consumed high levels of fast food tended to be less active. Scientists did, however, screen participants to ensure that none of them had any underlying illnesses or conditions that could influence diet or risk of depression, such as cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure.
Are there other mental health risks?
Fast food originally was created to increase efficiency and to provide consumers with instant gratification, allowing them to eat on the go and have more time for other pursuits. Researchers at the Rotman School of Management decided to examine how fast food affects our behavior and demeanor and found that simply being exposed to fast food and related items--such as logos or images--triggered impatience. Through a series of fast food exposure tests, scientists were able to conclude that people exposed to fast food logos through a series of computer images exhibited a loss of patience, manifested in multiple ways. First, when they offered participants a choice between a small sum of immediate cash or a much larger payment later, they tended to choose the instant gratification of the smaller payment. Subjects also expressed a preference for timesaving products such as two-in-one shampoo, and exhibited a general sense of haste and impatience.