Depression Can Cause Obesity, Say Researchers

Depression often causes lethargy and emotional eating, which can lead to excess belly fat and also to obesity, researchers say.

New research from the University of Alabama supports the theory that being depressed can make you pack on the pounds.

According to the study, young adults who reported feeling depressed or displayed symptoms of depression gained more weight and had more belly fat than those who reported to be happier.

Researchers focused on data from 5,115 men and women ages 18 to 30 over a period of 15 years. Participants were asked every five years to evaluate whether they felt any symptoms of depression, and their body mass index (BMI) was also tracked throughout the study. Everyone in the study gained weight over the 15 year time frame, but participants who reported symptoms of depression gained weight faster and accumulated more abdominal fat over time.

“When you’re depressed, you tend to be inactive and not to exercise as much, and you tend to eat more,” Dr. Belinda L. Needham, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the New York Times.

Stress could also cause both depression and obesity, according to researchers.

“The way we think about it in the study is that chronic stress is the mediator–that chronic stress arousal leads to depressed affect, which then leads to excess weight gain,” Dr. Needham told the Times.

Public health efforts to curb obesity don’t take emotional well-being into account, according to the report, which noted that treating depression could lead to a decline in weight for some.

“We’re not going to understand how to treat obesity if all we focus on is diet and exercise,” said Dr. Needham.

Researchers recommend that doctors and policymakers should not only deal with people’s physical health, but also address their mental health to help manage weight issues and curb the nation’s obesity epidemic.

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