Common Ground Between Depression and Obesity
While it can be more difficult to diagnose child depression than depression in adults, a survey of more than 1,500 9- to 10-year-olds found that 20% of those who were obese often felt sad, compared to only 8% of their healthy-weight peers.
Depression and obesity have many shared symptoms, including sleep problems, sedentary behavior, and unhealthy attitudes toward eating.
A 2006 study of 400 depressed teenagers showed that, on average, it took them longer to get to sleep than other teens. Obese children also have sleep issues. They are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea -- a serious condition marked by lapses in breathing during sleep. And they're more likely to feel sleepy during the day. That can be harmful because sleepiness can make you hungry, so poor sleep can aggravate both depression and obesity.
Being overweight also can lead to self-esteem problems that lead to depression, says Eileen Stone, a child and adolescent psychologist at Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D. "I see children at a young age who are concerned about their weight and size and are being picked on," Stone says. "Those ideas about self-esteem get to you pretty young, and you can grow up with them."
Inactivity or listlessness, typical characteristics of depression, also lead to weight gain. The more time children spend "vegging out" in front of the TV or computer screen, instead of being up and active, the fewer calories they burn. In addition to limiting opportunities for healthy exercise, too much screen time reduces contact with other children or parents.
Trading out some screen time to make more time to be physically active can provide an instant boost and, over the long haul, may help lift depression. Studies have shown physical activity to be among depression treatments that can help break the vicious cycle of depression, inactivity, and weight gain.