A healthy diet was linked to better mental health and wellbeing, highlighting the need for more strategies to warn families off junk food, according to a new study.

The research, led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that diets high in inflammatory foods were associated with poorer mental wellbeing in children aged 11-12 years, with similar effects observed in their parents.

Highly processed foods, including those high in sugar or salt, are known to cause inflammation and negatively affect physical health. But this study has also found a link between such diets, and an inflammatory blood marker called GlycA and mental wellbeing.

The researchers examined the association between inflammatory diets and mental wellbeing in more than 1700 Australian 11-12 year-olds and their parents, taking part in the Child Health Checkpoint Study.

MCRI's Dr Kate Lycett said there was a need to introduce new public policy measures such as further restrictions on junk food advertising and increasing taxes on processed foods high in fat and sugar.

Dr Lycett said the research also highlighted the benefits associated with a low inflammatory diet, high in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, beyond the positive impacts to physical health.

"This research demonstrates yet another compelling reason to urgently reduce inflammatory diets early in life. High sugar and salt diets and poor mental health are two pressing societal concerns," she said.

"This type of study gives us a good idea about what might be happening, but to really test if it's accurate, we need to conduct intervention trials at the population level. That would establish causation, inform community level policies to reduce inflammatory diets and benefit mental wellbeing."

MCRI GenV Scientific Director, Professor Melissa Wake, said that large-scale long-term studies such as GenV would enable such intervention trials.

"Large research projects like GenV will speed up answers to the major issues facing children and adults, today and for their futures," she said. "For example, GenV could follow families over a long period of time to establish causation between early life diet and later mental health and wellbeing, it could provide our policy-makers with the evidence they need to make meaningful, early interventions to improve health outcomes for children and adults.

"GenV is creating large, parallel whole-of-state child and parent cohorts which for the first time will give policymakers the breadth and depth of data needed to change policy now, as well as provide the policy solutions for the future," she said.

Researchers from Deakin University, the University of Melbourne, The Royal Children's Hospital, Monash University, The University of Sydney and the University of Auckland also contributed to the findings.

Publication: Kate Lycett, Disna J. Wijayawickrama, Mengjiao Liu, Anneke Grobler, David P. Burgner, Louise A. Baur, Richard Liu, Katherine Lange, Melissa Wake and Jessica A. Kerr, 'Does an inflammatory diet affect mental wellbeing in late childhood and mid-life? A cross-sectional study,' British Journal of Nutrition. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114521001616

*The content of this communication is the sole responsibility of MCRI and does not reflect the views of the NHMRC.

Available for interview:

Dr Kate Lycett, MCRI Population Health Group

Professor Melissa Wake, MCRI GenV Scientific Director

Media contact:

Bridie Byrne                                                                                          
MCRI communications specialist                                      
+61 457 365 848                                                

About MCRI:

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) is the largest child health research institute in Australia committed to making discoveries and developing treatments to improve child and adolescent health in Australia and around the world. MCRI pioneers new treatments, trials better vaccines and improves ways of diagnosing and helping sick babies, children and adolescents. MCRI is one of the only research institutes in Australia to offer genetic testing to find answers for families of children with previously undiagnosed conditions. 


The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC; 1041352, 1109355), The Royal Children's Hospital Foundation (2014-241), Murdoch Children's Research Institute, the University of Melbourne, National Heart Foundation of Australia (NHF; 100660), Financial Markets Foundation for Children (2014-055; 2016-310) and Victorian Deaf Education Institute. The NHRMC supported KL (Early Career Fellowship 1091124, also Honorary NHF Postdoctoral Fellowship 101239), RL (Postgraduate Scholarship 1114567, DB (Senior Research Fellowship 1064629, also NHF Honorary Future Leader Fellowship 100369), and MW (Principal Research Fellowship 1160906). Research at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute is supported by the Victorian Government's Operational Infrastructure Program.