Depression and obesity

Does Obesity Cause Depression?

[Murray Naditch, Ph. D.]
Weight Research Institute

A Billion Obese People

Obesity and depression are both serious and potentially deadly endemic conditions.

Obesity is defined as an abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) tells us that there are more than a billion adults and 22 million obese children in the United States. All of these people are at serious risk for developing chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Thirty Million Depressed People

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that one in ten people in the United States suffer from clinical depression.
Depression is the leading cause of disability for people in midlife and for women of all ages according to the World Health Organization.
Antidepressants are the best-selling prescription drugs in the United States. Approximately 10% of women and 4% of men take antidepressant medications in the United States.

The number of clinically depressed people is actually much larger. There are still vast numbers of untreated depressed people in the United States according to epidemiological studies

Studies indicate that depression takes a serious toll on physical health, including increased risk for stroke and coronary artery disease. Patients suffering from depression have a higher risk of death in the first few months after a heart attack.

Does Depression Cause Obesity?
Clinical studies have found that people with symptoms of depression are much more likely to become obese.
Depressed people are more likely to overeat, make poor food choices, avoid exercising, and become more sedentary.
Clinical studies have shown that depressed people with decreased levels of the hormone serotonin are more likely to become obese. People with decreased levels of serotonin tend to eat more in an attempt to self-medicate and restore their serotonin levels to normal.
Researchers have also found that depressed people tend to gain weight faster than people who aren't depressed.
Depression has symptoms that can worsen obesity such as disturbances in appetite, lack of energy, lack of motivation to do exercise.

Are Anti-depressive Medications Responsible for Obesity?
Many prescribed antidepressants have a common side effect of causing weight gain. This results in many people, who desperately need to be taking anti-depression medications, not taking them because tricyclic antidepressants boost appetite which results in weight gain.
On the other hand, depression in some people can cause them to lose weight. Depressed people may lose weight because they’ve lost interest in food. A hallmark of depression is that it results in lack of in pleasure.

Depression can also result in an eating disorder. Patients with anorexia nervosa are often depressed.
The Bitter Depression-Weight-Gain Cycle
Depressed people tend to be inactive, exercise less and eat more. Depressed people take antidepressants that can cause weight gain. Studies have shown that depression and obesity feed off each other in a vicious, self-destructive circle.
Chicken and Egg – Which Comes First?

Do people gain weight because they are depressed? Or do they become depressed because they are obese?

The fact is, no one knows. Researchers aren’t certain if depression causes obesity or obesity causes depression.
The important question is not which causes which but how to break the cycle.

What to Do About This Vicious Cycle

Exercise. That’s right exercise. Exercise may be the best prescription for treating depression.

A 2005 study looked at the effects of exercise vs. Zoloft, a popularanti-depressant medication, on the treatment of depression. Subjects were randomly disturbed between the two groups. The exercise group did 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three to four times a week. The other group received 150 mg of Zoloft per day.
Eight weeks later, the researchers discovered that the exercise was as effective at reducing depression as the Zoloft.
Zoloft not only causes weight gain, it also causes sleep problems and sexual dysfunction. The side effects of exercise are just the opposite.
A Combination of Approaches
In some cases, an effective weight control program can also help. Commercial weight control programs make lot of promises. More often than not the promises are empty.
Choose a program that can show you clinical outcome data demonstrating effectiveness. Ideally, the program should be able to demonstrate that participation results in both weight loss and depression.
The Pure Balance program in Glendale, California ( demonstrates clinical outcome data to potentials clients.