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One Surprising (And Often Overlooked) Cause of Depression

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According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. In 2014, around 15.7 million adults age 18 or older in the U.S. had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year, which represented 6.7 percent of all American adults. At any point in time, 3 to 5 percent of adults suffer from major depression; the lifetime risk is about 17 percent. As many as 2 out of 100 young children and 8 out of 100 teens may have serious depression.


So why is depression so common?


One explanation might have to do with anxiety. As many as half of all cases of anxiety also report symptoms of depression (ADAA, 2016).


Or we could argue that depression is simply what Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence calls a part of the rising cost of modernity. Gregg Easterbrook, author of the Progress Paradox, has also made the argument that while every reasonable measure of success – socioeconomic status, decreased rates of disease, access to healthcare, etc. – has improved, life, for most people, feels worse.


All of these are valid and quite plausible explanations. But a recent study shows that a significant contributor to the depression puzzle is actually right under our nose. In fact, we’d recognize the smell.


The Fast Food Fast Track to Depression


You already know it’s not good for you, but scientists from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Granada, wanted to find out just how bad for your mental health fast food really is. Analyzing data from 8,964 participants that had never been diagnosed with depression or taken antidepressants, as part of the SUN Project (University of Navarra Diet and Lifestyle Tracking Program) researchers assessed people for an average of six months.


What were the results? Consumers of fast food, compared to those who eat little or none, were found to be 51% more likely to develop depression. Even more compelling was that the link between fast food and depression appears to be dose responsive – that is the more you eat, the greater your risk (Sanchez-Villegas,, 2015).


And this was actually a duplicate study. The SUN project had already uncovered a link between fast food and depression in its 2011 study. There, fast food consumers were found to be 42 percent more likely to develop depression than those who consumed no fast food (Sanchez-Villegas, et. al., 2011).


And if you are thinking that just a little won’t hurt you, you’d be wrong. According to one of the university researchers who participated in the study, “Even eating small quantities is linked to a significantly higher chance of developing depression.”


So what’s the takeaway? That happy meal might not only be promising more than it can deliver. It might actually be making you feel worse.





Sánchez-Villegas, A., Toledo, E., Irala, J., Ruiz-Canela, M., Pla-Vidal, J., Martínez-González, M. (2011) Fast-food and commercial baked goods consumption and the risk of depression. Public Health Nutrition, 2011; 15 (03): 424

Sánchez-Villegas, A., Henríquez-Sánchez, P., Ruiz-Canela, M., Lahortiga, F., Molero, P., Toledo, E., Martínez-González, M. (2015) A longitudinal analysis of diet quality scores and the risk of incident depression in the SUN Project. BMC Medicine, 2015; 13 (1)



One Surprising (And Often Overlooked) Cause of Depression

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2016). One Surprising (And Often Overlooked) Cause of Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Dec 2016
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