Severely obese teens no more depressed than normal weight counterparts

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Severely obese teen

According to a new analysis, adolescents who are severely obese are no more prone to depression than normal weight teens. Researchers from the Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) and the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts Medical School say severe obesity doesn't seem to have the psychological impact assumed by most peope.

Obese teens generally happy

The researchers say, with the exception of some sensitivity about weight among Caucasians, most teen who are obese are generally happy. In a three-year study, 51 obese youth, grades 7 to 12, were monitored for depression symptoms at the study start at year 2 and 3. The adolescents were considered in the top 95 percentile for body mass index - BMI 40 or above.

The adolescents were deemed to have depression if they used medications to treat symptoms or if they scored above a certain number on the standard screening tool.

The researchers say they found no association between obesity and being depressed that they note may be because the teens were not being screened for depression at an obesity clinics like some investigations.


"People assume that all obese adolescents are unhappy and depressed; that the more obese a teen may be, the greater the impact on his or her mental health," says Elizabeth Goodman, MD, the lead author of the study and the director of the Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy. "Our findings suggest this assumption is false."

In the study, Goodman said there was a"greater impact on feelings of non-Hispanic White teens' than non-Hispanic black teens" that clinicians should remain vigilant about.

"As clinicians, we treat the entire person – body and mind – and we can't assume that weight loss will improve all our patients' mental health or that negative feelings run hand-in-hand with obesity," Goodman says.

The study found teens who are severely obese do not have higher rates of unhappiness or depression than their normal weight counterparts, who were also screened over the three-year study for comparison.

Journal of Adolescent Health
Depressive Symptoms in Severely Obese Compared With
Normal Weight Adolescents: Results From a Community-Based Longitudinal Study"
Elizabeth Goodman, M.D., Aviva Must, Ph.D

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