Pediatric depression/ behavior and diet
Updated: Mar 6
by Richard Aiken MD PhD
Adequate nutrition for younger children is a well-known critical factor for growth and development, not only in physiological terms, but also for optimal brain and cognitive function development. Inadequate nutrition has a detrimental effect on children’s health and predispose to childhood obesity, dental caries, poor academic performance, emotional and behavioral difficulties.
A cross-sectional analysis of the dietary patterns of Spanish school children ages 6 – 9 was compared with the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale for Children Questionnaire to measure depressive symptoms. Their conclusion was that for children:
“Nutritional inadequacy plays an important role in mental health and poor nutrition may contribute to the pathogenesis of depression.”
The mechanisms behind these effects in children and adolescents are not well described.
Beyond the obvious neurologic development in utero, we know that neurologic development continues after birth and extends throughout childhood and adolescence into young adulthood. It therefore seems logical that a highly nutrient dense diet could result in an advantage in brain development with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral implications.
This could be an effect additional to the now apparent influence diet has on the mental health of adults through inflammation and the immune system, oxidative stress and neurotropic factors. Focus on psychiatric disorders in childhood and adolescence is particularly important given the fact that three quarters of lifetime psychiatric disorders will first emerge by late adolescence or early adulthood.
There is a multitude of reasons why judicious choice of dietary patterns is particularly important to establish early.
Therefore, in all practices of medicine, regardless of specialization, it is important to include nutritional habits in assessments of children, adolescents, and adults. Dietary advice and education enhances both physical and mental health.
 Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2008). Brain foods: The effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience Nat Rev Neurosci, 9(7), 568-578. doi:10.1038/nrn2421.
 Rubio-López, N., Morales-Suárez-Varela, M., Pico, Y., Livianos-Aldana, L., & Llopis-González, A. (2016). Nutrient Intake and Depression Symptoms in Spanish Children: The ANIVA Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health IJERPH, 13(3), 352. doi:10.3390/ijerph13030352.
 Giedd, JN (2010) Structural MRI of pediatric brain development: what have we learned and where are we going? Neuron 67 (5), 728-34.
 Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593.