A Gut Feeling: Exploring the Relationship Between Nutrition, Mental Health and Wellbeing in Adolescents

Jessica Costeines, Fordham University


Mental illness in adolescence is associated with a multitude of adverse outcomes throughout an individual’s life span. Exploring and improving upon young adult’s diets and nutritional habits can be a beneficial compliment and/or an inexpensive alternative to current standards of treatment. While research suggests that diet affects mental health, recent revelations have been able to expound upon the intricate process of communication between the gut-brain axis. These technologically driven advances have been essential to further understanding the role of food and its potential to greatly reduce the prevalence and severity of mental illness over time. The majority of previous literature has focused on the dietary habits and mental health of either young children or adults, while investigation of these same problems in the teenage population is lacking. The following analysis utilized Year 15 of the Fragile Family and Child Wellbeing Study data aimed to investigate the relationship between nutrition, mental health and wellbeing in a nationally representative sample of 15-year-olds in the United States. After controlling for gender, race, body mass index, and social support to exercise and eat well, statistically significant relationships were found between nutrition and mental health, such as depression and anxiety symptomology, and child behavioral outcomes, such as aggression and attention problems. Although effect sizes were small, they indicate that it is important to consider the role that diet can play on improving on mental health and wellbeing outcomes in adolescents. Study findings can be used to explore how the field of social work can educate and intervene at a critical time of gut and brain development within this population.

Subject Area

Mental health|Nutrition

Recommended Citation

Costeines, Jessica, "A Gut Feeling: Exploring the Relationship Between Nutrition, Mental Health and Wellbeing in Adolescents" (2021). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28495458.