More than one-third of children and adolescents in the United States are obese or overweight. There are many health risks that accompany childhood obesity, including cardiovascular disease and prediabetes, but one sometimes-overlooked consequence of obesity is depression.
The Link Between Childhood Obesity and Depression
In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children (ages 6 to 11) and more than quadrupled in adolescents (ages 12 to 19).
Studies show that children and adolescents who are overweight and obese are at greater risk for social and psychological problems, such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem. Obese and overweight teens are also more likely to perform poorly in school. Children and adolescents are uniquely susceptible to such problems.
Weight issues aside, adolescence is already a period of vulnerability to the development of psychiatric disorders, including eating disorders, depression and alcohol abuse. Factors such as peer pressure and bullying can contribute to increased stress.
While it is true that findings directly linking obesity and depression are not clear, studies have found that obesity can indirectly lead to depression. Stressful life events like weight-based teasing and victimization can be a significant factor of depression in obese or overweight youth.
And the relationship between depression and weight is mutual. Studies have also overwhelmingly shown that mental health problems such as depression can lead to poor health habits, which can lead to obesity.
Feelings of emptiness prompted by depression or weight can make children or adolescents want to consume sweetened beverages and junk food, which stimulate the release of chemicals that can make them feel better.
Preventing Childhood Obesity
The key to preventing obesity is to implement healthy lifestyle habits starting in childhood. That includes smart nutrition and physical activity, which lower the risk of obesity and developing related diseases.
The dietary behaviors of children and adolescents depend upon many factors, especially the home and schools. To help your child or adolescent eat healthy, consider these simple guidelines.
- Get as much of your nutrition as possible from a variety of completely unprocessed foods.
That means fruits and vegetables as well as lean meats, fish, eggs and grains that have not been processed. When shopping at the grocery store, try to buy ingredients that have not been cooked, prepared or altered in any way.
Of course, there are foods, such as oil or pasta, that you can’t easily make yourself. When it comes to lightly processed foods, aim to eat them less often. Eat heavily processed foods (such as bread, chips, cookies and cereals) rarely, if at all.
- Eat home-cooked food as much as possible.
By eating at home, you can avoid processed ingredients more easily (and save a pretty penny). Eating at home makes it more likely that you will eat less.
Do you find it difficult to prepare home-cooked meals? Consider the time-saving technique of meal prepping.
- Use salt and fats only as needed in cooking.
Salt and fat aren’t the enemy — you need them in order to prepare delicious food. But the key rule is moderation. Add just enough to bring out the taste, but don’t go overboard.
- Be smart about eating out.
We’ve previously discussed tips for making smart decisions when eating out. In addition to strategizing, you should try to eat at restaurants which follow the same rules as above. Try to avoid restaurants with heavily processed, calorie-heavy foods.
- Drink mostly water.
Teens often consume high quantities of sugar- and calorie-laden soft drinks, juice drinks and beverages. You can’t do better than drinking water, which keeps your calorie intake much lower and provides numerous other health benefits.
Physical activity and exercise is the second prong of a healthy lifestyle. We have discussed a range of exercises that are appropriate for obese individuals. These include low-impact cardio, such as walking and swimming or water aerobics, and strength training.
By addressing childhood obesity through diet, exercise and, when necessary, surgical procedures, it is possible to avoid the wide variety of health risks that accompany obesity, including depression.