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Obese youths are not more likely to become depressed, but depressed youths are more likely to become obese

  • R. E. Roberts (a1) and H. T. Duong (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 09 January 2013

Overweight/obesity and depression are both major public health problems among adolescents. However, the question of a link between overweight/obesity and depression remains unresolved in this age group. We examined whether obesity increases risk of depression, or depression increases risk of obesity, or whether there is a reciprocal effect.


A two-wave prospective cohort study of adolescents aged 11–17 years at baseline (n = 4175) followed up a year later (n = 3134) sampled from the Houston metropolitan area. Overweight was defined as 95th percentile >body mass index (BMI) ⩽85th percentile and obese as BMI >95th percentile. Three indicators of depression were examined: any DSM-IV mood disorder, major depression, and symptoms of depression.


Data for the two-wave cohort indicated no evidence of reciprocal effects between weight and depression. Weight status predicted neither major depression nor depressive symptoms. However, mood disorders generally and major depression in particular increased risk of future obesity more than twofold. Depressed males had a sixfold increased risk of obesity. Females with depressive symptoms had a marginally increased risk of being overweight but not obese.


Our findings, combined with those of recent meta-analyses, suggest that obese youths are not more likely to become depressed but that depressed youths are more likely to become obese.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: R. E. Roberts, Ph.D., UTHealth, School of Public Health, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, 1200 Herman Pressler Dr., Suite E1017, Houston, TX 77030, USA. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
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