Depression and Obesity is Linked in Teenage Girls

depression and obesityTeenage girls who already suffer from either depression or obesity are at a greater risk of developing the other condition in the future.[1] Researchers from Rutgers-Camden University conducted a study of more than 1, 500 participants, ages 11 to 24, over a 10-year period.1 They found that females who experienced depression in early adolescence were more likely to become obese by late adolescence.1 Furthermore, females who suffered from obesity in late adolescence were more likely to experience depression by early adulthood.1 There were no significant links between the two disorders in males, according to the researchers.1

This study improves upon past research, by focusing on the onset of each disorder, instead of just the recurrence or persistence of the two conditions.1

“When researchers looked at this connection over time, data had been mixed,” said Dr. Naomi Marmorstein, associate professor of psychology at Rutgers-Camden. “Some found that depression and obesity go hand-in-hand, while others did not see the connection. We tried to take the next step in clarifying this link by looking at a sample of youth that we followed from ages 11 to 24.”1

Participants were assessed at ages 11, 14, 17, 20, and 24, using height and weight measurements, as well as clinical and interview-based diagnostic tools for major depressive disorder.1 Participants were checked for the onset of either disorder before age 14.1

Although the study was not originally designed to investigate the reasons for these links, theories and research do offer possible explanations.1 Depression can lead to obesity through increased appetite, poor sleep, and lethargy, while obesity can lead to depression through weight stigma, poor self-esteem, and reduced mobility.1

“When a person is young, she is still developing eating and activity patterns, as well as coping mechanisms,” said Marmorstein. “So if she experiences a depressive episode at age 14, she may be more at risk for having an onset of unhealthy patterns that persist.”1

Also, a child who is obese is more susceptible to negative societal messages about obesity or teasing, which may lead to the onset of depression.1

“At this age, adolescents are starting to establish relationships becoming more self-conscious, so teasing can be particularly painful,” said Marmorstein. “Prevention efforts aimed at both of these disorders at the same time when just one is diagnosed might help in decreasing their prevalence and comorbidity.”1

Marmorstein adds, “When an adolescent girl received treatment for depression, the clinician might consider incorporating something relating to healthy eating and activity. Exercise can assist in the treatment of depression to begin with, so it seems like a good reason to combine prevention efforts for both depression and obesity.”1

While it continues to be unknown why researchers have not found a link between depression and obesity in males, Marmorstein believes it to be a result of different developmental processes.1

[1] Pedersen, T. (2014). Depression, Obesity Linked in Teen Girls. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/03/23/depression-obesity-linked-in-teen-girls/67467.html

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