Childhood Obesity Linked with Mental Illness

Published Online: Thursday, May 1, 2003

A new study from Duke University found that teen and childhood obesity is associated with certain psychological disorders. The findings were published in Pediatrics (April 2003).

The study included ~1000 mostly white children 9 to 16 years old living in a rural North Carolina region where childhood obesity was at least 3 times more common, compared with the nation as a whole. The participants were evaluated annually over 8 years to determine height, weight, psychiatric disorders, and vulnerabilities to such disorders. The researchers concluded that chronic childhood obesity was associated with a greater likelihood of depression in boys and hostile and defiant behavior in both genders. Yet, it did not appear to increase the risk of chronic anxiety, substance use, or other psychological disorders.

The study found that boys who remained obese during childhood and adolescence were 4 times as likely to experience clinical depression, compared with boys of normal weight or those only overweight in childhood or their teen years. The connection, however, was absent in girls with chronic childhood obesity. Childhood obesity was linked with a 2.5 times greater likelihood of oppositional defiant disorder?an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, hostile behavior toward authority figures. Although the disorder is more prevalent in boys, it was elevated in both boys and girls.

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