Obese teenage girls may be more likely than their thinner peers to develop depression or anxiety disorders as adults, a study suggests.
Researchers found that among nearly 800 children and teenagers followed for 20 years, girls who were obese as teens had a roughly four-times higher risk of clinical depression or anxiety disorders in adulthood.
There was no such link seen among boys, however, the researchers report in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
Obese kids ostracised by peers
Adult obesity is known to raise the risk of a number of health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. For children, though, the most immediate consequences of obesity are often emotional and social - such as being ostracised by their peers.
It's not clear from this study why obese teenage girls had a higher risk of mental health problems later in life, lead researcher Dr Sarah Anderson told Reuters Health.
But based on other research, social stigmatisation and teasing may play a role in some cases, said Anderson, of the Ohio State University College of Public Health in Columbus, USA.
It also makes sense that girls would be more vulnerable than boys, she and her colleagues note in their report. Girls and women face more social pressure to be thin, and at any weight, girls tend to have a poorer body image than their male counterparts do.
Still, Anderson said, more research is needed to understand the reasons for the link between teen obesity and subsequent depression and anxiety in girls. She added that it's also important to remember that many obese girls in the study did not develop either disorder.
Obesity has impact on psychological health
The findings are based on 776 boys and girls who were between the ages of 9 and 18 when they entered the study in 1983. Over the next 20 years, they were assessed three times for major depression and anxiety.
In general, the risk of these disorders was higher among girls who were obese between the ages of 12 and 18 - even when other factors, such as family income, parents' education and parents' history of emotional problems, were taken into account.
"Our findings add to a growing body of research suggesting that, particularly for women, obesity may impact upon psychological health and wellbeing," Anderson said.
She suggested that teenagers who are concerned about their weight, or about any depression or anxiety symptoms, talk to their parents or another trusted adult. - (Amy Norton/Reuters Health)
SOURCE: Psychosomatic Medicine, October 2007.
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