Does Depression Cause Obesity or Does Obesity Cause Depression?

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ask the experts

My son is 10 and badly overweight. He has been acting out in school and spending weekends in bed. We took him to a psychologist, who diagnosed my boy with clinical depression. I know my son deals with a lot of bullying at school because of his weight. Would losing weight help? Does depression cause obesity or does obesity cause depression?

Doctor's response

Depression may be a reaction to life stresses, like trauma, including verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, the death of a loved one, school problems, bullying, or suffering from peer pressure. Youth who are struggling to adapt to the United States culture have found to be at higher risk for developing depression. Research differs as to whether obese children have an increased risk of developing depression.

Psychological contributors to depression include low self-esteem, negative social skills, negative body image, being excessively self-critical, and often feeling helpless when dealing with negative events.

That said, depressive disorders in children do not have one specific cause. Rather, people with these conditions tend to have a number of biological, psychological, and environmental contributors to its development. Biologically, depression is associated with a deficient level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, a smaller size of some areas of the brain and increased activity in other parts of the brain. Girls are more likely to be given the diagnosis of depression than boys, but that is thought to be due to, among other things, biological differences based on gender, and differences in how girls are encouraged to interpret their experiences and respond to it as opposed to boys. There is thought to be at least a partially genetic component to the pattern of children, and teens with a depressed parent are as much as four times more likely to also develop the disorder. Children who have depression or anxiety are more prone to have other biological problems, like low birth weight, suffering from a physical condition, trouble sleeping, and to having a mother younger than 18 years old at the time of their birth.

Children who suffer from conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), clinical anxiety, or who have cognitive or learning problems, as well as trouble engaging in social activities, also have more risk of developing depression.

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Reviewed on 11/26/2018