The Grapevine

Overweight Kids At Risk Of Anxiety And Depression, Researchers Say

Adolescents in the United States are dealing with depression and anxiety in a big way, but the connection to obesity is yet to be directly established. Data collected by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 3.2 million adolescents, representating 13.3 percent of the American population suffered at least one major depressive episiode in 2017.  

If that is not bad enough, obese adolescents are more prone to mental illnessess, researchers at the Karolinksa Institutet in Stockholm, have found. The results ot the study were shared recently at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow by lead researcher Louise Lindberg and her team.

The researchers accessed a huge sample of health records belonging to 12,507 adolescent children and teenagers (aged 6 to 17 years) at the Swedish Childhood Obesity Treatment Register for a decade (2005 to 2015). They were compared to 60,063 children without obesity from the same financial and social background to arrive at a consensus.

It was revealed that 4,320 children suffered from depression or anxiety during an average of 4 and a half years. The researchers did not want other factors to influence the results of the study. So, they canceled and balanced out other risk factors apart from obesity, such as migration, psychiatric disorders, genetics and economic background.

Obese A group of children and their parents embrace after a group photo upon graduation from the Shapedown program for overweight adolescents and children on November 20, 2010 in Aurora, Colorado. John Moore/Getty Images

The percentage of girls who had mental health problems while simultaneously being obese was 5 percent higher than the girls with normal weight. That is to say that 11.6 percent of female children and teenagers who had depression or anxiety were part of the obese group, while 6 percent of the children with normal weight were diagnosed with these mental health issues.

A fewer boys had mental health problems it turns out. Out of the male children with obesity, 8 percent were diagnosed with either depression or anxiety, while only 4.1 percent of the boys with normal weight had a mental health issue. This result does not reflect the drawback. The risk of anxiety and depression was higher by 43 percent in obese females, while the same was possible by 33 percent higher risk in obese males. 

The setback is that the study cannot literally prove that obesity is the independant cause of depression, despite eliminating other risk factors at the beginning of the study. In the final analysis, obesity leading to mental health problems is a possible consequence but not a definite one.

The limitations of the study are many. Height, weight, seriousness of mental health problems and undiagnosed health issues were not factored in, hence, the connection could not be concretely made. 

Similar result, different study presented at obesity symposium

Another study linking the two conditions was presented by academicians of University of Liverpool and University College London at the same symposium on obesity in Glasgow between April 28 and May 1, 2019. A huge sample size of 17,215 children born between 2000-2002, representative of the whole country, was studied in the UK.

The study found that children who had obesity at the young age of 7 were more likely to develop psychological dilemmas upon reaching 11 years of age. This, in turn, could possibly result in more weight gain by the age of 14. Nearly one fifth of obese children had emotional distress by adolescence, said the researchers. 

Despite extensive examinations, the researchers of both studies said the commonalities between mental illness and obesity need to be analysed further to understand and solve the health problems of the younger generation better.