The role of obesity in the etiology of a wide range of medical condition is widely recognized in medicine. Obesity is linked to several conditions including cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders. But the role of obesity in the etiology of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders has not been extensively studied. Converging lines of evidence suggests that obesity and emotional problems such as anxiety and depression appear to go hand-in-hand from the early stages of life to adulthood.
A nationwide study recently discovered that obesity is linked with an increased risk of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents. The study used obesity as the only parameter to establish a strong correlation between obesity and depression. Other factors such as parental pressures on children and adolescents, peer pressures and socio-economic status were excluded in the determination of the relationship between obesity and the development of depressive and anxiety symptoms.
The study involved a nationwide study presented at this year’s European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, UK (28 April-1 May). The study included a comparison of over 12000 Swedish children who had been treated for obesity with over 60000 matched controls. The researchers were able to discover that girls with obesity were 43% more likely to develop anxiety or depression compared to their peers in the general population. Similarly, boys with obesity faced a 33% increased risk for anxiety and depression compared to their counterparts.
“We see a clear increased risk of anxiety and depressive disorders in children and adolescents with obesity compared with a population-based comparison group that cannot be explained by other known risk factors such as socioeconomic status and neuropsychiatric disorders”, said Louise Lindberg, the lead researcher from the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. “These results suggest that children and adolescents with obesity also have an increased risk of anxiety and depression, something that healthcare professionals need to be vigilant about.”
To corroborate their findings, the researchers performed further analyses by excluding children with neuropsychiatric disorders. They also excluded children and adolescents with a family history of anxiety or depression. They discovered that the risks for the development of depression in the obese children were higher than those with normal body weight but with a family history of anxiety, depression or children who also had neuropsychiatric disorders. Their findings revealed that in particular, boys with obesity were twice as likely to experience anxiety or depression as their normal-weight peers — whilst girls with obesity were 1.5 times more likely.
“Given the rise of obesity and impaired mental health in young people, understanding the links between childhood obesity, depression and anxiety is vital,” says Ms. Lindberg. “Further studies are needed to explain the mechanisms behind the association between obesity and anxiety/depression.”
While the findings from this observational study is valuable. It however suffers from some limitations. The research is only an observational study and there is still no prove to explain how that obesity causes depression or anxiety but only suggests the possibility of such an effect. Furthermore, the absence of weight and height data in their comparison group may have influenced the results.