The Role of Depression in Adolescent Obesity
by Amy Scholten, MPH
Obesity is a problem in many children. It increases the risk of health problems in childhood. It can also increase the risk of obesity and health problems throughout adulthood. Extra weight is most often the result of taking in more calories than the body uses. It may be because of eating too much, not moving enough, or a combination of both. Family habits and community also play a role since they can affect the child's habits and choices. But other health issues may also play a role.
Depression is a mental health issue that causes long term regular low moods. Obesity may be part of why depression starts for some. Depression can also be the cause of obesity or make weight gain worse.
Increased Food Craving
Children who have depression tend to eat more food. They also tend to crave junk food. This means foods are higher in suagrs or fat. Eating more food and more junk food makes it easy to gain weight. There is also a link between poor food choices and low mood. A diet high in junk food does not cause depression but may make symptoms worse.
Have fresh fruits and vegetables ready for snacking. Decrease amount of junk food in the house. Fast food is sometimes used as a reward or way to make a child feel better. Occassional junk food can be part of an overall healthy diet. Look for other ways to reward your child such as games, outings, or healthy foods they enjoy but don't get often.
Less Physical Activity
Depression can make children feel tired. They may also lose interest in hobbies like sports. Depression may also make children less interested in playing with other children. Less activity will increase the risk of weight gain. It can also worsen mood.
It can be hard to motivate children with depression. Treatment may help to overcome these problems. Look for ways to help your child be more active. This may include family activity like a walk or trip to the park. Look for games that can be done at home that are active.
Sleep is an important part of health that often gets overlooked. Depression is known to interupt sleep. Poor sleep has been linked to increase weight. It is not clear exactly the effects. Those who don't sleep well are more likely to make poor food choices and be less active.
Start with helping your child build a good sleep routine. Make and keep a regular sleep time. They should go to bed the same time every night, even on days off. Keep electronics and screens out of the bedroom and shut them off at least an hour before bed. The room should be dark, quiet, and comfortable temperature. Again, depression can make sleep hard, even with good sleep habits. It is important to talk to your child's care team to let them know about sleep problems. Treatment can be adjusted to help get better sleep.
Medicine may be one part of depression treatment. Some depression medicine may cause weight gain. Work with your child's care team to create the best treatment plan for them. Other medicine may be available. Medicine may also be short term to help your child through therapy.
Depression and weight gain are linked to many factors. Each person may also react differently to these factors. This can make causes and treatment hard to lock down. Aim for a healthy overall lifestyle. This can make a good base for mental and physical health.
Work with your child's healthcare team. They can help to make a plan to manage your child's depression and weight gain. The plan will be based on your child's specific needs. Keep sharing your child's problems with the care team. This will help to tailor the plan to get the most benefit for your child.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
The College of Canadian Family Physicians
Public Health Agency of Canada
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Last reviewed July 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 7/22/2020
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