The Link Between Obesity and Teen Depression in Girls

Rutgers University recently did a study to explore the link between obesity and teen depression in females. The link between these two disorders has long been evident but the details behind the relationship are less clear. In fact the evidence that indicate their relationship has actually been conflicting. The goal of the study was to find clear evidence for their relationship for prevention and treatment of both obesity and depression in girls.


Obesity is a physical illness in which there is excess body fat for the height and muscle structure for an individual. When there is there is a caloric imbalance – too few calories are being expended for the amount of calories being consumed, the body will likely gain weight. However, the amount of weight gained depends on genetic, behavioral, environmental, and psychological factors.


One of the large dangers that come with weight gain for teens is depression, anxiety, and emotional strife. Given the pressures of looking good and being accepted by their peers during adolescence, teens can be vulnerable to mental illness if weight gain is continuing to take place.


“Adolescence is a key developmental period for both obesity and depression, so we thought it significant to look at the onset of those disorders at an early age,” wrote Naomi Marmorstein, associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University. The study surveyed more than 1,500 males and females in Minnesota and found that depression that begins in early adolescence can actually predict obesity in teenage girls by late adolescence.


Marmorstein indicated that teen depression can lead to obesity because of an increased appetite, poor sleep patterns, little exercise, and lethargy. At the same time, obesity can lead to depression because of the stigma of the weight among peers, poor self-esteem, and reduced mobility. However, the rates of occurrence for both of these disorders tend to be higher for female teens.


Research indicates that typically, as children grow older, the rates of depression are the same regardless of gender. It is usually around 3 to 5 percent for both boys and girls alike. However, when children enter into adolescence, girls are more at risk for experiencing depression. In fact, females are twice as likely to exhibit signs and symptoms of teen depression.


Also, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that more adolescent girls experience suicidal thoughts and are more likely to attempt suicide. The study surveyed about 6,500 teens between the ages of 13 to 18 and found that nine percent of boys and fifteen percent of girls experienced a period of persistent suicidal thoughts. Another study revealed that female adolescents experienced higher rates of depression than male adolescents and female teens were more likely to report their depressive symptoms.


Of course, healthy practices of eating nutritional foods, regular physical activity, and healthy lifestyle habits play a role in the prevention of obesity in teens. Societal pressures and expectations, family habits, communities, schools, medical care providers, and the media, and even faith-based institutions can determine whether or not healthy habits are implemented.


According to the Center for Disease Control, schools can play a pivotal role in preventing obesity. They can create a safe and supportive environment for teens to develop healthy eating practices. With the right implementation of healthy habits and with a supportive environment, obese teens can lose weight and stay at a healthy level.


In fact, this is precisely how to treat obesity. Treatment for teens that are overweight include changes in eating habits combined with increasing physical exercise. However, treatment depends on the severity of the obesity, the presence of existing health conditions and the vulnerability to developing certain health conditions because of the weight. Studies have shown that just a small amount of weight loss can lead to significant healthy benefits for those who are obese.


Prevention programs that address the co-morbidity of these disorders are focusing on the fact that both obesity and depression tend to have an early onset, which later cause the other illness, particularly in females. The treatment of one disorder in female adolescents early enough can prevent the other. It is indeed possible for obese and depressed teens to lose weight, to feel good about themselves, and live fulfilling lives.





Rutgers University. (2014, March 21). Obesity, depression linked in teen girls, new study shows. Science Daily. Retrieved May 23, 2014 from