The (Other) Added Benefits of Healthy Lifestyle Interventions
CatherineSpaulding, MD, Pediatric Chief Resident, Department of Pediatrics, Georgetown University
In a recently released article in Pediatrics,Loewen et al show that the development of mental illness in adolescents may be closely
associated with the number of healthy lifestyle behaviors adopted during childhood
(10.1542/peds.2018-3307). This finding is congruent with what one might expect; studies have previously shown
a positive association between healthy dietary habits and increased physical activity
with lower rates of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses in both teens and
But what is most striking about Loewen et al’s study is that the impact of healthy
lifestyle interventions appears to be additive. Their study showed that as the number
of lifestyle recommendations adhered to in children 10 - 11 years of age increased,
the number of physician visits related to mental health complaints during adolescence
decreased proportionately. They found that children meeting between 7 - 9 lifestyle
recommendations had 56% fewer mental health visits in the following 4 years as compared
to other children who only met 1 - 3 recommendations.
As a primary care pediatrician, I find this information critical to providing appropriate
guidance and counseling, especially for those “pre-teens,” whose future psyche may
benefit the most from healthy habits earlier rather than later. Convincing my 10-year-old
patient (and his or her parents) that the adoption of even a single healthy lifestyle
behavior - such as reduced screen time or increased physical activity - may come easier
by explaining that such a suggestion has been shown to be associated with a reduction
in the risk of future mental illness by 15%. In my opinion, this is more than a fair
trade. Incorporation of this guidance into our well child checks is one way we might
help to decrease the prevalence of mental illness within our communities while helping
to foster happier and more well-adjusted individuals.
O’Neil, Adrienne, et al. “Relationship Between Diet and Mental Health in Children
and Adolescents: A Systematic Review.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 104, no. 10, 2014, doi:10.2105/ajph.2014.302110.
Lai, Jun S, et al. “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Dietary Patterns and
Depression in Community-Dwelling Adults.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 99, no. 1, 2013, pp. 181–197., doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.069880.
Korczak, Daphne J., et al. “Children’s Physical Activity and Depression: A Meta-Analysis.”
Pediatrics, vol. 139, no. 4, 2017, doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2266.