Studies have found that there is a link between obesity and depression in children, although it is not clear if there is a cause and effect relationship or if the two simply go together. In some cases individuals who are obese may be prone to depression because of the social stigma that comes with being overweight or fat. On the other hand, individuals who suffer from depression may be prone to overeating and this will cause an increase in size and weight. People who suffer from anxiety disorders and depression are particularly prone to resort to overeating foods rich in sugar and fats. The lack of motivation to move around due to depression may also lead to an increase in weight.
Studies have shown that the longer a child is obese, the higher the risk for depression. This is especially true for boys than girls. Studies have been conducted and have shown that the probable causes could be societal or could be neuroendocrine related. Experts are looking at the HPA Axis which is the route between the hypothalamus, which governs a part of the nervous system and the pituitary and the adrenal glands. The axis is responsible for producing the hormone cortisol, the stress hormone which is responsible for depositing layers of fat around the abdomen. This naturally happens when the body is under stress. However, when this occurs regularly, it could lead to health problems. Problems with the function of the HPA axis have also been found to contribute to the development of other behavioral problems, not just obesity and depression.
However, experts believe that the problem is much more complex. Other factors such as socioeconomic advantage, exposure to social stigma, and the lack of positive reinforcement and support in the home can raise a persons risk for obesity when depressed and vice versa.
Depressed or obese children are more likely to have a lower quality of life compared to children their age due to the lack of motivation to move around, play and socialize with other children. Studies have also shown that those who suffered from depression as children were not only at a higher risk for obesity, they were also at a higher risk to become chronic substance abusers and heavy drinkers when they grow up.
What parents can do
The best way would be to treat obesity and depression as an illness and not include the issue of appearance. Measures like taking the childs height and weight, monitoring the childs activity to look for signs of depression as well as reporting these to the physician for proper referral is a must. A support network for both adults and children is important in helping them deal with the problem. A healthy diet and proper controls, especially with children is crucial. Monitoring is also important when it comes to depressed people, especially when it comes to teenagers and adults. Therapy may be helpful to determine the underlying cause of the depression.