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Dr. Felice Jacka: Can we prevent depression by improving diet?

Associate Professor Felice Jacka is a Principal Research Fellow at Deakin University. She is recognised as a leading expert worldwide regarding the association between diet quality and the common mental disorders, depression and anxiety, in children, adolescents and adults. She is president of both the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR) and the new Australian Alliance for the Prevention of Mental Disorders (APMD).

The 20th century has seen major shifts in dietary intakes globally, with a marked increase in the consumption of sugars, snack foods, take-away foods and high-energy foods. At the same time, the consumption of nutrient-dense foods, such as high-nutrient vegetables and raw fruits, is diminishing. Chronic, lifestyle-driven diseases are now the largest contributor to early mortality across the globe. Although not classified as one of the noncommunicable diseases, depression now imposes the largest burden of illness in middle and high-income countries.

In 2010 A/Prof Jacka and her team published the first study to report the relationship between diet quality and clinical depressive and anxiety disorders, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Since then, in addition to publishing further studies of this topic in Norwegian and Australian adults, she has published the first studies to demonstrate relationships between diet quality and mental health in adolescents. Her newest research for the first time implicates both the diet of women during pregnancy, and childhood diet quality, in the risk for mental health problems in children. Given that 75% of psychiatric illnesses begin before age 25, these findings have significant implications for public health.

In this presentation A/Prof Felice Jacka will give an overview of the recent and compelling evidence from around the globe demonstrating the important role that diet plays in the common mental health problems, depression and anxiety, in children, adolescents and adults. This very new research is transforming the way these disorders are conceptualised. She will also discuss the potential for universal prevention strategies for depression and anxiety, as well as novel treatments strategies for mental disorders that incorporate dietary changes.