When your dinner comes from a drive-thru, you might wind up
with a not-so-happy meal. A new study in Public
Health Nutrition has backed up earlier reports of a link between fast food and
The study, led by researchers at the University of Las
Palmas de Gran Canaria and University of Navarra in Spain, followed almost 9,000
participants for about six years. The more fast food, such as burgers and
pizzas, the participants ate, the more likely they were to develop depression.
It’s not the first time scientists have found a link between
depression and fast food. In 2011, researchers from the University of Maryland reported
similar results in a
study of midlife women. In that study, women with depressive symptoms ate
burgers, fried chicken, or fried fish from fast food joints more often than
women with no signs of depression.
Scientists are still exploring how fast food and depression
might be related. On one hand, depression may increase the odds of choosing the
drive-thru. When you’re depressed, it’s hard to muster the motivation and
energy to take good care of yourself.
On the other hand, a poor diet may increase the risk of
becoming depressed. Many fast foods are high in trans fats—unhealthy fats that
raise bad LDL cholesterol, lower good HDL cholesterol—and increase the risk
for heart disease and stroke. Trans fats promote inflammation, and growing
evidence suggests that inflammation may play a role in causing depression.
Just as important as what people eat is what they don’t eat. Those with a diet that’s
heavy on fast food may be missing out on the protective effects of healthier
foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and non-fried
fish. Substances in these foods that may help protect against depression
include antioxidants, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Finally, depression and fast food may also be linked through
less healthy habits in general. Eating fast food often goes hand in hand with skipping
exercise and working extra-long hours. A high-stress, low-exercise lifestyle may
just add to the depression risk.
Ultimately, grabbing an assembly-line meal that has been sitting under a heat lamp seems depressing in more
ways than one.