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There is a strong connection between depression and obesity, with the two conditions promoting the other. The depression-obesity cycle, once started, might be very difficult to break.

Most of us know someone close who is battling a weight issue or more specifically, the bulge. Depression and feelings of low self-esteem are not uncommon among them. Do you blame the media for going gaga over our skinny celebs, encouraging people to harbor unrealistic perceptions about their bodies? Do you think that if the media didn't go around declaring "thin is in," the common man with weight issues would not be so obsessed with his shape or tie it to his sense of self-worth?

Psychiatrists have other ideas. They have built a substantial body of evidence that suggests obesity and depression are linked.

Depression And Obesity — Trends And Triggers

What comes first—depression or obesity? You may wonder in an obvious throwback to the chicken-or-the-egg question. But according to researchers, there is no simple answer because obesity and depression go hand-in-hand.

Being obese increases the risk of depression in a person. Obesity also aggravates the symptoms of depression in an individual already diagnosed with the condition. On the other hand, depression has been found to trigger obesity as well. A host of physiological, emotional, social, and behavioral mechanisms play a role in creating and sustaining the bi-directional relationship between depression and obesity.

Depression and obesity are critical public health concerns. This is evident from the slew of studies carried out to find out and explain the link between these two conditions. Depression and obesity are rampant across diverse population groups.

Depression And Obesity In Youths

Even children and adolescents do not seem to be immune to these disorders that were once considered "adult" health problems. Researchers suspect a connection between childhood obesity and depression that continues into adulthood. Depression that develops during the early-adolescent years increases the likelihood of a person developing obesity later in life. Late adolescent-onset obesity increases the chances of a person developing depressive disorders later in adulthood.

A host of variables like peer victimization, bullying, teasing and taunting, and social alienation can make obese children and adolescents depressed. What is disconcerting is that depressive disorders in adolescents tend to magnify rapidly because this population generally has poor coping skills and usually do not seek professional help readily, instead choosing to be moody, angry, and pessimistic, which in turn, invite more bullying.

The Physiological Causeway Between Depression And Obesity

Leading a sedentary lifestyle is one of the major triggers of obesity. Obesity brings on fatigue and a general disinclination towards physical activity. Furthermore, depression and especially feelings of social alienation have been known to drive youths to spend more time in front of the Internet, play video games, or watch television. Feelings of social alienation magnify depressive moods while reduced physical activity intensifies the problem of obesity. So the individual gets trapped in the vicious depression-obesity cycle.

There are several biological triggers that sustain the depression-obesity cycle. Reduced sleep time or disturbed sleep is a characteristic symptom of many types of depression. Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased pangs of hunger and greater insulin resistance. Both these developments can not only cause diabetes but also make it difficult for a person to lose weight. Besides, insomnia triggers suicidal thoughts and worsens the symptoms of depression.

Continue reading after recommendations

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  • Marshall, C., Lengyel, C. & Utioh, A. (2012). Body dissatisfaction among middle-aged and older women. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research 73(2). p.e241-e247
  • Nemiary, D. et al. (2012). The Relationship Between Obesity and Depression Among Adolescents. Psychiatric Annals 42(8). p.305-308
  • Reeves, G., Postolache, T. & Snitker, S. (2008). Childhood Obesity and Depression: Connection between these Growing Problems in Growing Children. International Journal of Child Health and Human Development 1(2). p.103-114
  • Schneider, K. et al. (2012). Depression, Obesity, Eating Behavior, and Physical Activity. Journal of Obesity 2012. Article ID 517358.Mind map by SteadyHealth.com
  • Photo courtesy of Mlazarevski via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/mlazarevski/9052142413

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