Washington D.C.: Obesity and emotional problems, such as feelings of low mood and anxiety, tend to develop hand-in-hand from as young as age 7 years, according to new research. The study was presented at the meeting of the European Congress on Obesity.
The nationwide study comparing over 12,000 Swedish children who had undergone obesity treatment with more than 60,000 matched controls found that girls with obesity were 43% more likely to develop anxiety or depression compared to their peers in the general population. Similarly, boys with obesity faced a 33% increased risk for anxiety and depression compared to their counterparts.
“We see a clear increased risk of anxiety and depressive disorders in children and adolescents with obesity compared with a population-based comparison group that cannot be explained by other known risk factors such as socioeconomic status and neuropsychiatric disorders”, said Louise Lindberg, who led the research.
“These results suggest that children and adolescents with obesity also have an increased risk of anxiety and depression, something that healthcare professionals need to be vigilant about,” added Lindberg.
Anxiety and depression are reported to be more common in children with obesity than in children of normal weight, but it is unclear whether the association is independent of other known risk factors.
To provide more evidence, researchers conducted a nationwide population-based study to investigate whether obesity is an independent risk factor for anxiety or depression.
About 12,507 children aged between 6-17 years from the Swedish Childhood Obesity Treatment Register between 2005 and 2015 were compared to 60,063 controls from the general population matched for sex, year of birth, and living area.
The research team adjusted for a range of factors known to affect anxiety and depression including migration background, neuropsychiatric disorders, parental psychiatric illness, and socioeconomic status.
A total of 4,230 children and adolescents developed anxiety or depression over an average of 4.5 years.
Obesity was clearly linked with a higher risk of anxiety and depression in childhood and adolescence. Girls (11.6% vs 6%) and boys (8% vs 4.1%) with obesity were more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression than those in the general population over the study period.
In further analyses, excluding children with neuropsychiatric disorders or a family history of anxiety or depression, the risks were even higher. In particular, boys with obesity were twice as likely to experience anxiety or depression as their normal-weight peers- whilst girls with obesity were 1.5 times more likely to experience anxiety and depression.
“Given the rise of obesity and impaired mental health in young people, understanding the links between childhood obesity, depression and anxiety is vital”, said Lindberg.
“Further studies are needed to explain the mechanisms behind the association between obesity and anxiety/depression,” Lindberg added.