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National Survey on Drug Use and Health
Spotlight
May 04, 2017
1 in 5 female adolescents who were overweight and obese had a past year major depressive episode
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Past Year MDE by Weight Category among Female and Male Adolescents Aged 12 to 17: Annual Averages, 2013 to 2015 NSDUH

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Obesity and depression are major public health problems among adolescents. For example, more than 1 in 5 adolescents are obese1 and more than 1 in 11 adolescents have experienced a major depressive episode (MDE) in the past year.2 MDE among adolescents is defined a period of at least 2 weeks during which they had either depressed mood or loss of interest in usual activities and also experienced a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-worth.2 According to the 2013 to 2015 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUHs), there was an association between weight3and depression among female adolescents aged 12 to 17. This pattern was not found for male adolescents. Female adolescents who were overweight or obese were more likely to have a past year MDE than female adolescents of normal weight (both 20.5 percent vs. 17.4 percent). 

Assessing the relationship between obesity and depression is complicated because NSDUH data do not identify which health concern came first. However, these data indicate that female adolescents who experience one of these health concerns may be at increased risk for developing the other.5 Recognizing the association between obesity and depression among female adolescents may inform prevention and treatment efforts. SAMHSA resources to help parents, teachers, and caregivers to recognize the signs and symptoms of adolescent depression and to locate mental health services are available at: https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/mental and https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov.  

  1. Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Lawman, H. G., Fryar, C. D., Kruszon-Moran, D., Kit, B. K., & Flegal, K. M. (2016). Trends in obesity prevalence among children and adolescents in the United States, 1988-1994 through 2013-2014. Journal of the American Medical Association, 315(21), 2292-2299.
  2. Estimate based on combined 2005 to 2014 NSDUH data. MDE is based on diagnostic criteria from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV. For more information, see the 2014 NSDUH mental health detailed tables available at http://samhsa.gov/data/
  3. NSDUH weight categories are based on Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI at or below the 5th percentile = underweight, BMI in the 5th to 84th percentile = normal weight, BMI in the 85th to 94th percentile = overweight, and BMI at or above the 95th percentile = obese. 
  4. Luppino, F. S., de Wit, L. M., Bouvy, P. F., Stijnen, T., Cuijpers, P., Penninx, B. W., & Zitman, F. G. (2010). Overweight, obesity, and depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Archives of General Psychiatry67(3), 220-229.