Eating Away at Depression

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Depressive symptoms can include emotional eating which can lead to obesity

April 12, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Some people with depression aren’t interested in food, but there are others who eat too much. Emotional eating from depression can trigger serious weight gain resulting in obesity.

A recent study looked at the rates of obesity in older adults with different types of depressive symptoms in comparison to the general population.

The results showed that there were more than twice as many obese people with symptoms of atypical depression – which include sleeping too much and overeating – than obese people in any other comparison group.

"Watch out for emotional eating."

Kee-Lee Chou, PhD, from the Department of Asian and Policy Studies at the Hong Kong Institute of Education in China, led an investigation into associations between depression and obesity.

For this study, researchers looked at data collected between 2001 to 2002 from 10,557 adults in the US that were 60 years of age and older.

Previous studies have looked for links between major depressive disorder and obesity, but the results have been incomplete or unclear. Insomnia and lack of appetite can be a part of classic depressive symptoms, whereas oversleeping and overeating can be part of atypical depressive symptoms.

The authors in this study wanted to include people with different types of depression to get a broader view of how obesity might be involved.

The researchers interviewed participants and placed patients with depressive symptoms into one of three categories: classic depression, atypical depression and undifferentiated (doesn’t fit into either category) depression.

Researchers calculated each participant's BMI at the time of the interview. A BMI of 25 and higher is considered overweight and 30 and higher is considered obese, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The researchers diagnosed 997 people with major depressive disorder: 74 people with atypical depression, 527 with classic depression and 396 with undifferentiated depression.

A total of 9,560 people without major depressive disorder were used as the control group.

Obesity was found in 21 percent of people without depression, 57 percent of people with atypical depression, 24 percent of people with classic depression and 27 percent of people with undifferentiated depression.

Even after the researchers made adjustments for age, gender, marital status, race and personal income, the rate of obesity in people with atypical depression was still more than double that of any of the other group.

“Eating behavior associated with mood may be the underlying mechanism in the relationship between major depressive disorder with atypical symptoms and obesity,” the authors wrote.

The authors recommended that prevention measures for obesity should be designed and delivered to older adults with atypical depression.

This study was published in April in Depression and Anxiety.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and a grant from Strategic Public Policy Research helped support funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.