Fruit and vegetable consumption and psychological distress: cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses based on a large Australian sample

BMJ Open. 2017 Mar 15;7(3):e014201. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-014201.


Objectives: Growing evidence suggests a link between diet and mental health. This study aimed to investigate the association between fruit and vegetable consumption and the prevalence and incidence of psychological distress in middle-aged and older Australians.

Design: Cross-sectional and prospective.

Setting: New South Wales, Australia.

Methods: A sample of 60 404 adults aged ≥45 years completed baseline (2006-2008) and follow-up (2010) questionnaires. Psychological distress was assessed at baseline and follow-up using the validated Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10), a 10-item questionnaire measuring general anxiety and depression. Psychological distress was defined as the presence of high-to-very high levels of distress (K10 score ≥22). Usual fruit and vegetable consumption was assessed using short validated questions. The association between baseline fruit and vegetable consumption and the prevalence or incidence of psychological distress was examined using logistic regression models.

Results: At baseline, 5.6% reported psychological distress. After a mean 2.7 years of follow-up, 4.0% of those who did not report distress at baseline reported distress at follow-up. Baseline fruit and vegetable consumption considered separately or combined, was associated with a lower prevalence of psychological distress even after adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics and lifestyle risk factors. Baseline fruit and vegetable consumption, measured separately or combined, was associated with a lower incidence of psychological distress in minimally adjusted models. Most of these associations remained significant at medium levels of intake but were no longer significant at the highest intake levels in fully adjusted models.

Conclusions: Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption may help reduce psychological distress in middle-aged and older adults. However, the association of fruit and vegetable consumption with the incidence of psychological distress requires further investigation, including the possibility of a threshold effect between medium and higher consumption levels.


Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anxiety / prevention & control*
  • Australia
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / prevention & control*
  • Diet*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Fruit*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • New South Wales
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control*
  • Vegetables*