Girls who experience depression and anxiety during adolescence may be prone to excess weight gain later in adulthood, say researchers from Tufts University in Boston, and Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, both in New York City.
The researchers followed the families of 820 men and women born between 1965 and 1974 until 2003. At four separate times throughout the study, the participants or their parents provided information about their height and weight and answered questions about whether they experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety.
In women, both anxiety disorders and depression were associated with a higher body mass index (BMI). Girls who first experienced depression at an earlier age tended to have a higher BMI later in life, compared with women who first experienced depression in adulthood. However, in men, depression and anxiety weren't linked to higher BMIs; in fact, men who were depressed in childhood tended to have lower BMI measurements than men who weren't depressed. Anxiety disorders in men didn't appear to be linked with weight.
What This Means to You. In this long-term study of men and women, women with depression and anxiety were more likely to become obese, whereas men with depression or anxiety had BMIs that remained lower or unchanged. By the time of early adulthood, depression tends to be twice as common in women, and females may be more likely to experience symptoms that include increased appetite, increased sleepiness, and low activity levels. These symptoms make it more likely that a person would gain extra weight, suggest the study authors.
If you think your child may be depressed or has symptoms like prolonged sadness or irritability, fatigue, appetite changes, or changes in sleeping habits, talk to your child's doctor or a mental health professional.
Source: Sarah E. Anderson, MS; Patricia Cohen, PhD; Elena N. Naumova, PhD; Aviva Must, PhD; Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, March 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: March 2006