Predictor of obesity

Anxiety, depression in girls can lead to weight problems

Women are at greater risk for obesity if they have a history of anxiety disorders or depression, particularly at a young age, according to research done at Tufts.

In a study that followed 820 men and women from childhood through young adulthood, scientists found that women with a history of either depression or anxiety—or both, in many cases—tended to gain more weight over time. For example, a 30-year-old woman whose depression was first recognized at age 14 weighed, on average, 10 to 15 pounds more than a similar woman with no history of depression. The weight difference was smaller when the depression was diagnosed at age 18.

Anxiety disorders were associated with women weighing an extra six to 12 pounds by adulthood, regardless of their age at diagnosis. In contrast, depression and anxiety disorders did not seem to affect men’s weight gain, the researchers found.

The research was reported in the March issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Though the weight difference linked to depression and anxiety was not enormous, the extra pounds could lead to obesity in some women, said lead study author Sarah E. Anderson, N04, a Ph.D. student at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy who worked with Aviva Must, associate professor of public health and family medicine at Tufts, on the project.

The researchers concluded that treating young women for anxiety and depression could help prevent obesity in some of them later on, although they said more research is needed to confirm that depression and anxiety are, in fact, causing the excess weight gain.

Previous studies have already determined that is the case, Anderson told Reuters Health. Some people respond to depression by overeating, essentially self-medicating with food, she said.

One explanation for the gender difference, Anderson told Reuters Health, could be that women are more likely than men to have depression symptoms that can contribute to weight gain—including increased appetite and excessive sleeping.