Obesity May Be Linked With Mood Disorders in Children

Teenage overweight girl sits at a bench in a gym.
With the prevalence of childhood obesity steadily rising, there is a need for the greater understanding of the relationship between childhood obesity and mood disorders.

The following article is a part of conference coverage from the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting 2021, held virtually from May 1 to 3, 2021. The team at Psychiatry Advisor will be reporting on the latest news and research conducted by leading experts in psychiatry. Check back for more from the APA 2021.


A relationship may exist between obesity and mood disorders in children, according to study results presented at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting, held virtually from May 1 to May 3, 2021.

This literature review study included 282 articles written between 2000 and 2020 that were located using study-specific search terms on research databases, including PubMed, OVID, and PsychINFO. The search terms “childhood/adolescents,” “obesity,” and “mood disorders” were used as inclusion criteria, while articles with “adult obesity,” “eating disorder,” “drug pharmacology,” and “gut flora” were excluded. Two independent researchers performed the screening of selected articles.

One meta-analysis (11 studies; N=17,894 participants) showed higher rates of anxiety and depression symptoms among overweight or obese children or adolescents compared with those who were not overweight. While this meta-analysis suggested a unidirectional relationship, a bidirectional relationship was indicated in some of the studies.

One study showed that depression was more likely among adolescents with higher body mass index. Another study found strong evidence of obesity preceding depression, but no correlation between adiposity and general anxiety disorder in patients between 18 and 22 years.

Yet another study showed a stronger correlation for the reverse (depression preceding obesity), though this study also showed evidence of bidirectionality of the disorders; additionally, female youths showed stronger associations between depression and obesity than was seen in male participants. The results of another study indicated stronger bidirectionality in young adult women than was seen in late adolescence.

The researchers concluded that the reviewed articles provide evidence for “a relationship…between obesity and mood disorders which impacts children.” Further study is needed to identify “the nature and contributory key elements of this relationship, identify significant risk factors in the pediatric population and…to make recommendations for early intervention.”

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Basith S, Obele M, Ayyanar S, et al. The relationship between obesity and mood disorders in children: A systematic review. Presented at: APA annual meeting May 1-3, 2021. Abstract/Poster 4995.