The impact of 12 modifiable lifestyle behaviours on depressive and anxiety symptoms in middle adolescence: prospective analyses of the Canadian longitudinal COMPASS study


Unhealthy lifestyle behaviours are becoming increasingly common and might contribute to the growing burden of mental disorders in adolescence. We examined the associations between a comprehensive set of lifestyle behaviours and depression and anxiety in middle adolescents.


School-based survey responses were collected from 24,274 Canadian high school students at baseline and 1-year follow-up (average age 14.8 and 15.8 years, respectively). Using linear mixed-effects models, we examined prospective associations of adherence to recommendations for vegetables and fruit, grains, milk and alternatives, meat and alternatives, sugar-sweetened beverages [SSB], physical activity, screen time, sleep, and no use of tobacco, e-cigarettes, cannabis, and binge drinking at baseline with the depressive and anxiety symptoms (measured by CESD-R-10 and GAD-7 scales, respectively) at follow-up.


Adherence to recommendations was low overall, particularly for vegetables and fruit (3.9%), grains (4.5%), and screen time (4.9%). Students adhering to individual recommendations, particularly for meat and alternatives, SSB, screen time, sleep, and no cannabis use, at baseline had lower CESD-R-10 and GAD-7 scores at follow-up. Adhering to every additional recommendation was associated with lower CESD-R-10 (β=-0.15, 95% CI -0.18, -0.11) and GAD-7 scores (β=-0.10, 95% CI -0.14, -0.07) at follow-up. Assuming cumulative impact, this might translate into 7.2- and 4.8-point lower CESD-R-10 and GAD-7 scores, respectively, among students adhering to 12 vs. 0 recommendations over four years of high school.


The results highlight the preventive potential of population-based approaches promoting healthy lifestyle behaviours, particularly those with the lowest prevalence, as a strategy to improve mental health in adolescence.


Adolescence; Anxiety symptoms; Depressive symptoms; Lifestyle behaviours; Mental health; Youth.

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