Study says fast food may lead to depression in teens
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A new study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) found that diets heavy in fast food and light in vegetables may lead to depression in teens.

The study focused on a small sample size of 84 middle school girls and boys, 95 percent of whom are African Americans from low-income homes. The study examined overnight urine samples to test for high sodium and low potassium at baseline and again 18 months later.

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The study found symptoms of depression in both children and their parents, regardless of sex, blood pressure and weight. 

"High sodium, you've got to think of highly processed food," the study’s lead author Sylvie Mrug, chair of the psychology department at UAB, told CNN. "This includes fast food, frozen meals and unhealthy snacks." 

"The study findings make sense, as potassium-rich foods are healthy foods," added dietitian Lisa Drayer, a CNN health and nutrition contributor. "So, if adolescents include more potassium-rich foods in their diet, they will likely have more energy and feel better overall — which can lead to a better sense of well-being and improved mental health." 

However, the study could only conclude a correlation between the high-sodium diets and depression, not causation. 

"It might also be true that a poor diet could be linked to other risk factors for depression, such as social isolation, lack of support, lack of resources and access to health care and substance abuse," Drayer said. "It might be hard to tease out if diet is the factor or simply a marker for other risk factors for depression."

The study comes with depression among middle schoolers on the rise. An American Psychological Association analysis of national data in March found the rate of major depressive episodes among kids 12 to 17 in the preceding year had spiked by 52 percent between 2005 and 2017. It also found the rate of depression, psychological distress and suicidal thoughts over the preceding year among older teens and young adults hit 63 percent.

Past studies have also linked poor diets to depression, along with other contributing factors like lack of sleep and high use of social media.