UAB logoDepression may need to be taken seriously as it not only affects mental health but may also lead to obesity and increases the risk related to obesity diseases. An association between depression and abdominal obesity that is related to an increased risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease has been confirmed by a new study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Researchers observed the data obtained from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study which included 5,115 men and women aged between 18 and 30. The study aimed to identify the main reason for cardiovascular diseases. Needham examined the information in order to test whether body mass index was linked with increase in depression. It was also observed if depression was linked with changes in BMI and waist circumference during a period of time.

“We found that in a sample of young adults during a 15-year period, those who started out reporting high levels of depression gained weight at a faster rate than others in the study, but starting out overweight did not lead to changes in depression,” said UAB Assistant Professor of Sociology Belinda Needham, Ph.D.

“Our study is important because if you are interested in controlling obesity, and ultimately eliminating the risk of obesity-related diseases, then it makes sense to treat people’s depression,” said Needham, who teaches in the UAB Department of Sociology and Social Work. “It’s another reason to take depression seriously and not to think about it just in terms of mental health, but to also think about the physical consequences of mental health problems.”

Experts weighed and calculated the waist circumference and BMI of the participants. It was observed that the waist circumference was calculated to the nearest half centimeter. The participants were also asked to rank their levels of depression in years five, 10, 15 and 20.

“Looking at the CARDIA sample data, we found that everyone, as a whole, gained weight during the 15-year period of time that we examined,” said Needham. “However, the people who started out reporting high levels of depression increased in abdominal obesity and BMI at a faster rate than those who reported fewer symptoms of depression at year five. In year five, the waist circumference of the high-depression group was about 1.6 centimeters greater than those who reported low depression. By year 20, the waist circumference of the high-depression group was about 2.6 centimeters higher than those who reported lower levels of depression”.

She shares that in contrast high initial BMI and waist circumference did not affect the rate at which changes occurred in symptoms of depression over time. Reports show that cortisol which is a stress hormone is related to depression and abdominal obesity. Therefore it is identified that people who suffer from depression may have greater abdominal obesity as compared to other parts of the body because of increased cortisol. She further reveals that additional studies are required to understand the main cause for weight gain among people who were depressed.

This study appears in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health.