That increased risk is independent of traditional risk factors, such as parental psychiatric illness and socioeconomic status, according to researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.
The study compared more than 12,000 Swedish children who had undergone obesity treatment with more than 60,000 matched controls. It found that girls with obesity were 43 percent more likely to develop anxiety or depression compared to their peers in the general population. Similarly, boys with obesity faced a 33 percent increased risk for anxiety and depression compared to their counterparts, according to the study’s findings.
“We see a clear increased risk of anxiety and depressive disorders in children and adolescents with obesity compared with a population-based comparison group that cannot be explained by other known risk factors, such as socioeconomic status and neuropsychiatric disorders,” said Dr. Louise Lindberg of the Karolinska Institutet, who led the research.
“These results suggest that children and adolescents with obesity also have an increased risk of anxiety and depression, something that healthcare professionals need to be vigilant about.”
Anxiety and depression are reported to be more common in children with obesity than in children of normal weight, but it is unclear whether the association is independent of other known risk factors, the researchers noted. Previous studies are hampered by methodological limitations, including self-reported assessment of anxiety, depression, and weight, they add.
To provide more evidence, the researchers conducted a nationwide population-based study to investigate whether obesity is an independent risk factor for anxiety or depression. The study included 12,507 children between the ages of 6 and 17 who were on the Swedish Childhood Obesity Treatment Register between 2005 and 2015. These children were compared to 60,063 normal weight children from the general population matched for sex, year of birth, and living area, the researchers explained.
The research team adjusted for a range of factors known to affect anxiety and depression, including migration background, neuropsychiatric disorders, parental psychiatric illness, and socioeconomic status.
During the study, 4,230 children and adolescents developed anxiety or depression over an average of 4.5 years.
Obesity was clearly linked with higher risk of anxiety and depression in childhood and adolescence, according to the study’s finding.
Girls (11.6 percent vs 6 percent) and boys (8 percent vs 4.1 percent) with obesity were more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression than those in the general population over the study period.
A further analysis that excluded children with neuropsychiatric disorders or a family history of anxiety or depression found that the risks were even higher. In particular, boys with obesity were twice as likely to experience anxiety or depression as their normal-weight peers, while girls with obesity were 1.5 times more likely, the researchers reported.
“Given the rise of obesity and impaired mental health in young people, understanding the links between childhood obesity, depression, and anxiety is vital,” Lindberg said. “Further studies are needed to explain the mechanisms behind the association between obesity and anxiety/depression.”
The study was presented at the 2019 European Congress on Obesity.