CDC Reports Depression and Obesity May Be Linked

Obesity was most common in severely depressed adults taking antidepressant medication

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Obesity and depression are both tied to health risks like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. And now a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report suggests that being obese may increase patients' risk of depression, and vice versa.

Researchers at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics studied survey data related to obesity and depression. The CDC released a report on the data from 2005 to 2010.

The authors found what's called a bidirectional relationship between obesity and depression. That means depression increased the risk of obesity, and obesity increased the risk of depression.

"It is well known that obesity is associated with depression," said Peter Strong, PhD, a psychotherapist specializing in mindfulness therapy for anxiety and depression and author of The Path of Mindfulness Meditation, in an interview with dailyRx News. "Food provides a source of emotional comfort which can help relieve depression. However the relief is short-lived, which can lead to binge eating and other forms of addiction. Chronic binge eating will promote obesity."

"On the other side," Dr. Strong continued, "obesity frequently leads to low self-esteem, poor self-image and increased self-hatred, which are key features of chronic depression. In this way, depression and obesity become locked into a vicious self-reinforcing pattern."

Laura A. Pratt, PhD, of the CDC’s Office of Analysis and Epidemiology, led the study.

Based on the results, “It is not clear whether depression or obesity occurred first because they were both measured at the same time,” the authors wrote.

The authors noted that past research has shown that both conditions may raise the risk for the other.

“Knowledge of these risks may help general medical practitioners and mental health professionals plan prevention and treatment,” they wrote.

The five-year survey results found that 43 percent of adults with depression were also obese. Adults with depression were more likely to be obese than adults without depression.

Obesity was measured using body mass index (BMI). BMI is a height- and weight-based measure of body fat. A BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.

The authors assessed depression based on the severity of symptoms. Depression symptoms include feelings of sadness, irritability, loss of interest in normal routine, guilt, and thoughts of death or suicide.

Depressed women of all ages were more likely to be obese than women who were not depressed, the authors wrote. The trend was consistent with white, black and Mexican-American women.

Adults with more severe depression symptoms were more obese than adults with less severe depression.

The highest rate of obesity, 54.6 percent, was in patients with moderate or severe depression being treated with prescription medication.

A healthy diet and exercise can help manage weight. To maintain weight, the CDC suggests 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise each week. To lose weight, the CDC recommends combining exercise goals with a healthy diet.

Running, swimming laps, rollerblading, skiing, jumping rope, and team sports like basketball or soccer are good weight loss activities, the CDC reports.

The research was published in October on the CDC website.

Review Date: 
October 17, 2014
Last Updated:
October 20, 2014