Not So Happy Meal: Fast Food Linked to Depression

By: Michael Engle

Have you ever wondered how happy children become when served McDonald's Happy Meals? But just how happy can a Happy Meal actually make you? For years, parents and physicians have worried about fast food's nutritional value (or lack thereof), as well as whether their advertising practices prey upon young children. Fast food has also been criticized for their food preparation techniques, from using GMO's to constraining their livestock in tight living quarters. The most recent attack against fast food companies is of a different ilk. Tracy Pedersen reports that fast food may be linked to depression.

Scientists from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Granada found that consumers of fast food are 51 percent more likely to develop depression than minimal or non-consumers. According to the lead author of this study, Dr. Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, Ph.D., the connection is so strong that "the more fast food you consume, the greater the risk of depression." The study also found a similar connection between commercial baked goods, e.g.: donuts, cakes, and croissants, and the likelihood of depression.

The results also showed that those participants who ate the most fast food and commercial baked goods were more likely to be single, to be less active, and to have poor dietary habits (eating less fruit, nuts, fish, vegetables and olive oil). It was also common for individuals in this group to smoke and work over 45 hours per week. The study sample consisted of 8,964 participants who were part of the SUN Project (University of Navarra Diet and Lifestyle Tracking Program). The subjects had never been diagnosed with depression or taken antidepressants. They were assessed for an average of six months, and during this time, 493 were diagnosed with depression or had started to take antidepressants.

I personally wonder whether fast food, in the context of this study, is actually a spurious cause of a diagnosis of depression. After all, consistently working nine hours a day would appear to be a significant factor that could lead to depression. Similarly, being confined to a desk would preclude people from exercising and/or enjoying nature, which could also be a contributing factor to depression. Regardless, bringing a salad or a home-cooked, health-conscious dish to the office would be a good decision on multiple fronts. Not only would you gain satisfaction by making a good meal in advance (and not have to lose time to the cafeteria or the drive-thru), but it would probably taste better as well!

To see which US cities ranked top for fast food consumption, click here.


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