Children who have a poor diet are more likely to have a mental health problem as an adolescent, research has found.
Wendy Oddy, of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Western Australia, found the typical Western dietary pattern increased a child's chance of developing emotional and behavioural problems.
The Western dietary pattern was found to increase the likelihood of an individual being withdrawn, depressed, anxious, aggressive and delinquent.
Dr Oddy studied 1600 14-year-olds and identified two distinct dietary patterns that influenced the wellbeing of an individual.
She associated a Western dietary pattern with burgers, pies, sausage rolls, confectionary, red meat, refined grains, full-fat dairy food, dressings and sauces.
A healthy dietary pattern was linked with red, yellow and leafy-green vegetables, fresh fruit and legumes, wholegrains and fish.
"We then adjusted the analysis to take into account things you would expect to be associated with mental health, like family functioning, family income, single mothers, biological fathers not living at home, parents who smoke and parents' education," Dr Oddy said.
The Western dietary pattern was found to increase the likelihood of an individual being withdrawn, depressed, anxious, aggressive and delinquent. It also contributed to the "obesity explosion".
Dr Oddy said that even though teenagers were generally getting enough of the "good" foods from the healthy diet, they were also getting a lot of the less healthy foods. "There's a lot of snacking that's going on in between meals and a lot of drinks that are readily available and are being consumed as snacks," she said.
She found that many children were unaware of their snacking habits and it was not uncommon for them "to eat a whole packet of chips while watching TV and not even realise".
"We live in a Western society, so you would expect the children to have a Western diet, but I guess because we live in a Western society we also have the ability to choose a healthy or unhealthy diet," she said.
Healthy eating habits were "personal and family issues" that should be encouraged from youth, she said.
"It's really got to start from the word 'go', because in our studies we have been looking at nutritional factors associated with general mental health and it does seem the earlier children have a poorer diet, the earlier the mental health problems.
"We have to teach our kids that nutritious foods, such as fruit, can be nice and tasty and are treats as well - not just lollies."
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