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Untreated Depression can Thwart Weight Loss Efforts

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Untreated depression can thwart weight loss efforts, suggest researchers. Being overweight increases the chances of depression 50 to 150 percent, shown by past studies and could interfere with acitivity levels.

Less Depression Leads to More Weight Loss

Scientists from University of Washington, Seattle followed women for one year to find depression treatment helped women lose weight, compared to a control group.

In the study, published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, researchers compared weight loss among women age 40 to 65 with an average BMI of 38.3. One group focused on losing weight and the other on treating depression and weight loss combined.

Lead study author Gregory Simon, M.D., of Group Health Research Institute in Seattle explains decreased physical activity and depression are related, but it’s hard to say how one influences the other. “Increased physical activity leads to improvement in depression and improvement in depression leads to increased physical activity.

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During the first six months, 38 percent of women who experienced at least a one half-point improvement on the Hopkins Symptom Checklist depression score lost 5 percent of body weight compared to 21 percent of women whose depression remained the same.

The women all underwent depression scoring tests and assessments of food intake and activity levels prior to entering the study that included 26-group sessions over a 12-month period.

“Most weight loss programs do not pay enough attention to screening and treatment of depression,” said Babak Roshanaei-Moghaddam, M.D., of the psychiatry and behavioral sciences department at the University of Washington in Seattle. “This study further underscores the importance of screening for depression in such programs that can potentially lead to both physical and psychological well-being.”

More women who were treated for depression lost 5 percent of body weight in the first six months compared to those focused on just losing weight. They also remained stable at 12 and 24-month follow-up.

The findings suggest improving mood can help women lose weight and highlights the importance of incorporating depression screening into weight loss programs.

General Hospital Psychiatry: Volume 32, Issue 6, Pages 583-589 (November 2010)