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May 9, 2001

Study links child's depression with later obesity

NEW YORK, May 09 (Reuters Health) - Being severely depressed in childhood could increase the likelihood that a person will become obese as an adult, according to researchers.

The findings could provide a new avenue for treating obesity, and also underscore the importance of diagnosing and treating depression in children, Dr. Daniel S. Pine and colleagues from the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University in New York City report in the May issue of Pediatrics.

Pine's team looked at 90 children between the ages of 6 and 17 who suffered major depression, and 87 children in the same age range with no psychiatric problems. People who were depressed as children had an average body mass index (BMI) of 26.1 when followed up 10 to 15 years later, versus a BMI of 24.2 for the individuals who had not been depressed. BMI is a measurement of weight in relation to height that is used to define if a person is overweight or obese.

People with a BMI of 25 or above are considered overweight and those with a BMI of 30 or above are considered obese. For example, a person who is 5' 6" in height would have a BMI of 25 if they weighed 155 pounds and a BMI of 30 if they weighed 185 pounds. The children--both depressed and depression-free--had a BMI of about 19 when the study began.

Pine and colleagues found that, overall, people who were depressed as children were twice as likely to be obese in adulthood. Also, poverty in childhood and being depressed for a longer time were both associated with having a higher BMI, the report indicates.

There are several reasons depressed children are more likely to become overweight adults, according to the researchers.

"For example, depression could affect diet or activity levels that could, in turn, lead to elevations in BMI," the authors write.

Or depression and BMI could both be influenced by another factor, such as poverty or a biological predisposition, which could increase the risk for being both overweight and feeling depressed.

"Emerging evidence suggests that brain systems that are either affected by stress or which moderate an organism's response to stress play a role in disorders of both mood and weight regulation," Pine and colleagues conclude.

SOURCE: Pediatrics 2001;107:1049-1056.

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