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Child Psychiatrist /Adult Psychiatrist

Higher Childhood BMI Linked to Greater Depressive Symptoms in Adolescence

Higher body mass index (BMI) at 7 years of age is associated with increased body dissatisfaction in late childhood and greater depressive symptoms in adolescence, according to study results published in Lancet Psychiatry. However, body dissatisfaction in late childhood was independent of BMI as a risk factor for depressive symptoms in adolescence.


depressive symptoms in adolescence

The prevalence of depressive symptoms among adolescents is increasing, highlighting the need for effective preventative interventions and a better understanding of potential modifiable risk factors. The current study sought to explore the relationship between childhood BMI, late childhood body dissatisfaction, and adolescent depressive symptoms.


Investigators utilized data from the Millennium Cohort Study, an ongoing UK longitudinal birth cohort study involving over 18,000 families with children born between 2000 and 2002. The primary outcome was depressive symptoms at 14 years of age, assessed using the 13-item Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (sMFQ). Objective BMI measurements were recorded at 7 years of age by trained interviewers and were standardized by age and sex. Body dissatisfaction was measured at 11 years of age using a single-question scale from 0 to 6, derived from a broader happiness questionnaire. A total of 13,135 children with available BMI data at 7 years of age were included in the analysis, of which 49.6% were girls and 84.4% were White.


Our findings suggest that greater body dissatisfaction in late childhood is an important risk factor for adolescent depression, regardless of the child’s BMI.


In univariable models, higher BMI at 7 years of age was associated with greater depressive symptoms at 14 years of age (β, 0.38; 95% CI, 0.25-0.50; P <.0001) and with greater body dissatisfaction at 11 years of age (β, 0.17; 95% CI, 0.14-0.19; P <.0001). Greater body dissatisfaction at 11 years of age was also associated with higher depressive symptoms at 14 years of age (β, 0.83; 95% CI, 0.74-0.92; P <.0001). All associations were higher in magnitude among girls relative to boys and all sensitivity analyses were consistent with results from the main analyses.


In mediation analyses, the investigators found that 26% of the association between BMI and depression was mediated by body dissatisfaction. This relationship varied by sex, with body dissatisfaction accounting for 43% of the relationship between BMI and depression in girls (P =.005), and 39% in boys (P =.822).


These findings indicate that children with higher BMI in childhood have greater body dissatisfaction at 11 years of age and higher depressive symptoms in adolescence.


Additionally, children who were more dissatisfied with their appearance at 11 years of age had greater depressive symptoms by 14 years of age. Study authors concluded, “Our findings suggest that greater body dissatisfaction in late childhood is an important risk factor for adolescent depression, regardless of the child’s BMI.”


Study limitations include the reliance on a single-item question to measure body dissatisfaction and a lack of information on disordered eating behaviors.


Note: This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor

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