A program aimed at helping obese women maintain their weight also significantly reduced depression in nearly half the women, according to a new study from Duke University.
The study was conducted with 185 low-income black women between the ages of 25 and 44, each with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 35, who were receiving primary care at five community health centers in central North Carolina.
For 91 of the women, software developed by Duke researchers created a personalized program called the Shape Program’s “Maintain, Don’t Gain” intervention. During the 12 months of the program, the women in this group tracked behavioral goals — such as no fast food or sugary drinks — each week via automated phone calls. Each of the women also had monthly calls with a personal health coach, while some took advantage of a YMCA membership.
The other 94 participants were randomly placed in a control group and continued to receive usual care from their physicians.
At the start of the 12-month study, 19 percent of the intervention participants and 21 percent of the women in the control group reported moderate to severe depression.
At the end of the 12 months, just 11 percent of the intervention participants said they were still depressed, compared to 19 percent receiving usual care. At 18 months, 10 percent of the intervention group said they were depressed, while the usual-care group remained at 19 percent, according to the study.
The findings were not related to how well the women did in the weight management program nor whether they were taking depression medication, the researchers noted.
“Interventions that focus on maintaining your weight, not just losing weight, may have more widespread effects,” said lead author Dori Steinberg, a research scholar with the Duke Digital Health Science Center.
“It is exciting that we improved depression among a population that is severely socioeconomically disadvantaged and has limited access to depression treatment. The reductions we saw in depression are comparable to what is seen with traditional approaches like counseling or medication treatment.”
The study, which appears in the American Journal of Public Health, cites past research showing that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. Additionally, more than one in seven black women will suffer major depression.
Compared with their white counterparts, black women with depression are less likely to receive treatment (39.7 percent vs. 54 percent), according to the researchers.
And among those who seek treatment, blacks are less likely than whites to receive care that corresponds to clinical practice guidelines, Steinberg noted.
Moreover, depression is three times more common for those with incomes below the federal poverty level, according to the study.
Obesity is also more severe among black women, which can lead to a higher prevalence of obesity-related chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, according to the study.
Past research has also shown that black women find it more difficult to lose weight. However, it is unclear why that disparity exists.
According to Steinberg, the disparity might be influenced by differences in sociocultural norms related to weight, diet, and physical activity or socioeconomic stressors and other barriers regarding access to treatment.
“These higher occurrences may also have an impact on psychosocial outcomes such as depression,” she said. “Interventions that focus on behavioral weight control may present a useful opportunity to address both obesity and depression.”
Source: Duke University