"This is important, because depressive symptoms are considered a precursor to major depression," said Boutelle.
According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased from 5.0 percent to 18.1 percent in 2008. Similarly, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, found that 2 million youths aged 12 to 17 experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2007.
Knowing that the teenage years are often a tumultuous period in a young person's life, Boutelle and her colleagues set out to determine whether obesity contributes to the development of depression among youth. This is in contrast to the well-documented conclusion that depression increases the risk of obesity. Results of their study will appear in the May 21 issue of Health Psychology.
Using a structured psychiatric interview test — the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School-Age Children (K-SADS) — assessors gathered responses from almost 500 girls between the ages of 13 and 16 years, of various ethnicities. To receive a diagnosis of depression, the girls had to report the presence and severity of at least five symptoms. At each of four yearly assessments, the girls were weighed and measured. Data from the interviews indicated that obese status was associated with an increase in depressive symptoms, but not Major Depression.
"Based on our findings, I would encourage parents, teachers and physicians to monitor overweight and obese girls for depressive symptoms, and refer them for evaluation if they are concerned," said Boutelle.
Additional contributors are Peter Hannan and Jayne A. Fulkerson, Scott J. Crow University of Minnesota, and Eric Stice, Oregon Research Institute.
This study was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.