Rutgers study finds link between teen girls, depression, and obesity

March 20, 2014, The Star-Ledger

By Susan K. Livio

Adolescent girls diagnosed with major depression are likely to gain an unhealthy amount of weight as they mature, according to a study co-written by a Rutgers-Camden professor and released March 20.

Conversely, obese teenager girls are prone to develop depression as they reach adulthood, according to the study, which was published March 19 in the International Journal of Obesity.

The same correlation between depression and weight was not found among boys and young men, according to the article.

While obesity and depression have long thought to be linked, the study found that one diagnosis is likely to follow the other among girls ages 14 to 24.

According to the article, the results of the study suggest “prevention efforts aimed at both of these disorders in childhood and adolescence” may promote health and mental stability. It said young girls diagnosed with depression could be steered into exercise and sports to prevent the onset of obesity.

“When an adolescent girl receives treatment for depression, the clinician might consider incorporating something relating to healthy eating and activity,” Naomi Marmorstein, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers–Camden and co-author of the study, said. “Exercise can assist in the treatment of depression to begin with, so it seems like a good reason to combine prevention efforts for both depression and obesity.”

The study assessed the heights and weights of 1,500 male and female participants from Minnesota at the age of 11, 14, 17, 20, and 24. The subjects were interviewed to determine whether they suffered from major depressive disorder. The researchers monitored weight gain and symptoms of depression by age 14, then from age 14 to 20, and from 20 to 24.

“Adolescence is a key developmental period for both obesity and depression, so we thought it significant to look at the onset of these disorders at an early age,” said Marmorstein, who wrote the study with William Iacono, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, and Lisa Legrand, a research associate.

“When a person is young, she is still developing eating and activity patterns, as well as coping mechanisms,” she said. “So if she experiences a depressive episode at age 14, she may be more at risk for having an onset of unhealthy patterns that persist.”

The study did not set out to learn why these conditions are related, but theories exist.

“At this age, adolescents are starting to establish relationships [and] becoming self-conscious, so teasing can be particularly painful,” Marmorstein said.

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