Depressed Girls More Likely to be Overweight than Boys

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Teens


There's a link between depression and obesity in girls, a new study shows, but depressed boys don't have the same risk of becoming overweight.

In the findings, reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers administered stress tests to a random sampling of children. Those who demonstrated signs of depression showed a spike in a stress hormone called cortisol that has been linked to obesity. But of the children tested, only the depressed girls were overweight.

The researchers don't know why high levels of cortisol is associated with obesity only in girls, but they believe the difference could lie in behavioral and physiological differences in the way the genders react to anxiety.


Dr. Elizabeth J. Susman, the Jean Phillips Shibley professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State University, along with colleagues at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the University College London, examined the behavior of 111 boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 13 to check for symptoms of depression.

They then weighed the children and checked their cortisol levels before and after they gave them a stress test, which included telling a story, making up a story and doing mental arithmetic. To make their endeavors more trying, the children were told that judges would evaluate their results and compare them against those of other children.

The children who exhibited signs of depression were more likely to produce cortisol when put under stress, and the more depressed they were, the higher their cortisol spikes, Susman tells ParentDish in a phone interview. The depressed girls were the most likely to be overweight.

While the link between depression and obesity is well known in adults, this is the first time being depressed has been associated with being overweight in children, Susman says.

"In these children, it was mainly the peak in cortisol that was related to obesity," Susman says in a statement. "It was how they reacted to an immediate stress."

Parents and clinicians should be sensitive to weight issues in depressed children, and vice versa, Sussman says.

"Obesity and depression go together," Sussman tells ParentDish. "In this aged child we don't know what causes what, but certainly, if you see a child who is obese you have to have some understanding of their psychological state as well."

Related: Fighting Childhood Obesity

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