Research recently published in Brain and Behavior suggests diet could be to blame for increasing rates of aggression seen in adolescent girls. When surveyed for dietary habits and aggression, the researchers discovered that their subjects who ate a Western diet (defined as one “rich in snacks, red meat, poultry, industrial fruit juices, soft drinks, sweets, and desserts”) were more likely to report aggressive feelings and behaviors. This research provides more evidence that poor diet and aggression may be linked.
Aggression as a mental health concern has surged in recent years. Aggression threatens public safety and can result in serious criminal behavior, endangering the lives of potential victims and incurring costs to society. While female aggression has been rising faster than male aggression, studies on adolescent aggression have primarily focused on males.
Multiple factors, such as media exposure, stress, and socioeconomic status, have been linked to adolescent aggression. Additionally, although the evidence is not conclusive, there are indications that diet can affect mental health.
Adolescence is a crucial phase for emotional development, and teenagers are highly susceptible to peer pressure, which can negatively impact their food preferences. Clinical studies have examined the connection between diet, nutrients, and antisocial behavior, and implementing school food nutrient policies has generally had a beneficial effect on students’ dietary choices. To date, no research has been conducted to study how the habitual dietary patterns of female adolescents may relate to their tendency towards aggression.
For their study, Mahsa Malekahmadi and colleagues recruited 670 adolescent girls, ages 12-18, from different schools in various areas of the Razavi Khorasan province of Iran. Subjects with chronic diseases or those taking relevant medications and supplements were excluded from the study.
The study utilized a food frequency questionnaire containing 168 food items with nine multiple-choice response categories to collect dietary intake data from participants. Daily nutrient intake was calculated using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s national nutrient database, and 40 food groups were defined to identify significant dietary patterns.
Measurements of weight, height, and waist circumference were measured twice, and blood pressure was evaluated using standardized protocols. A Persian translation of the Buss-Perry questionnaire was employed to assess aggression scores. The questionnaire includes items such as “Some of my friends think I am a hothead” and “I have threatened people I know.”
The study identified three primary dietary patterns among the participants and found that those following a Western dietary pattern tended to have higher levels of aggression. However, there was no significant correlation between healthy or fast food diets and aggression.
The study’s authors recommended that better diet quality and avoiding unhealthy foods could potentially decrease aggression in adolescents, but further research is needed to confirm this through longitudinal intervention studies.
Malekahmadi and colleagues suggest that improving food availability in schools and local communities can help decrease the levels of aggression in teenage girls. Adolescent girls who followed a Western dietary pattern with high energy, red and processed meat, low and high-fat dairy, soft drinks, snacks, and sweets, but low intake of legumes, spices, hydrogenated fat, and sugar, had an increased risk of aggression.
The authors propose that food and nutrition policymakers should encourage healthy dietary patterns in adolescents to decrease the possibility of psychological disorders. Furthermore, the authors suggest future research, including longitudinal intervention studies with larger sample sizes, to investigate the link between major dietary patterns and aggression in children and adolescents.
The study, “The relationship between dietary patterns and aggressive behavior in adolescent girls: A cross-sectional study“, was authored by Mahsa Malekahmadi, Sayyed Saeid Khayyatzadeh, Javad Heshmati, Shadia Hamoud Alshahrani, Nikzad Oraee, Gordon A. Ferns, Safieh Firouzi, Naseh Pahlavani, and Majid Ghayour-Mobarhan.