If you are trying to lose weight you might find it much harder if you have untreated depression, researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle report in General Hospital Psychiatry. They also found that an overweight individual has a significantly greater risk of having depression compared to people of normal weight for their age and height.

Gregory Simon, M.D. and team monitored 203 obese women for a period of twelve months. They all had symptoms of depression and were aged 40 to 60 years. They all had a BMI of over 30; average 38.3.

The women were placed in two groups:

  • Weight loss group – the participants focused only on losing weight.
  • Weight loss plus depression group – as well as focusing on losing weight, their depression was clinically treated

In both groups there were 26 group sessions over a period of one year. The women were assessed at the start of the study, at 6 months, 12 months and then 24 months. Assessment included measuring body weight, identifying depressive symptoms, and gathering self-reported data on physical activity. They were also given a food frequency questionnaire at each assessment session which estimated their calorific intake.

The researchers found that depression is closely linked to decreased physical activity – i.e. women with depression do less exercise. They could not determine which was causing which and by how much; i.e. how much the overweight was causing the depression or vice-versa. They wrote that more physical activity leads to an improvement in depressive symptoms, but also that an improvement in depressive symptoms leads to more physical activity.

At six months the scientists found that 38% of the women who had an increase of at least half-a-point on the Hopkins Symptoms Checklist depression score had shed 5% of their body weight, versus only 21% of those whose depression had not improved at all.

The majority of weight loss programs do not focus enough on treating depression or screening for it, the authors explained.

The scientists also found that more women who were being treated for their depressive symptoms had kept their weight off at 12 and 24 months.

For a weight loss program to have a better chance of success, depression screening and treatment needs to be included, the authors wrote.

The authors concluded:

    “Among women with co-occurring obesity and depression, short-term improvement in depression is associated with weight loss.”

If your BMI (Body Mass Index) is between 20 and 24.9 you have an ideal body weight, you are overweight if your BMI is between 25 up to 29.9, and obese if it is 30 or more. If a person’s body weight is 20% higher than it should be they are probably obese.

BMI is a statistical measurement that considers your height and weight. BMI can be misleading because it does not specifically measure the proportion of body fat and/or muscle a person has. Therefore, an Olympic athlete might have a higher BMI than an unfit couch potato of the same height, but the couch potato has a larger waist and looks/is less healthy.

Obese individuals have a significantly higher risk of developing osteoarthritis, coronary heart disease, gallbladder disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), dyslipidemia (high triglyceride levels), total high cholesterol, respiratory problems, several cancers, sleep apnea, stroke, and diabetes type 2.

“Association between change in depression and change in weight among women enrolled in weight loss treatment”
Gregory E. Simon, Paul Rohde, Evette J. Ludman, Robert W. Jeffery, Jennifer A. Linde, Belinda H. Operskalski, David Arterburn
General Hospital Psychiatry – November 2010 (Vol. 32, Issue 6, Pages 583-589)

Written by Christian Nordqvist