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Added Weight in Childhood Leads to Added Risk of Depression

New research from the Association for the Study of Obesity suggests that being overweight, especially during childhood, could increase the risk of developing major depression later in life. The CDC states that "the percentage of children with obesity in the U.S. has more than tripled since the 1970s," and that "today, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) has obesity."[1] And with those added pounds comes the added risk for developing depression later in life.

The CDC defines obesity as "having excess body fat [which is] measured using the body mass index, or BMI, a widely-used screening tool for measuring both overweight and obesity...Children at or above the 95th percentile have obesity."1 Previous studies have shown that people who are obese are a greater risk of developing depression, but the new study from the Association for the Study of Obesity closely examined the link between early-life obesity and depression risk. The study, which analyzed 889 participants, found "that being overweight at age 8 or 13 was associated with more than triple the risk of developing major depression at some point in their lives, whilst carrying excess weight over a lifetime (both as a child and as an adult) quadrupled the chance of developing depression compared to only being overweight as an adult."[2]   

While depression at any stage of life is a serious condition, it’s especially troubling when it presents in children. Mental health organizations encourage parents to be vigilant and look for signs that their child may be depressed. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, these symptoms could indicate that you child is struggling with depression:

  • Depressed or irritable mood
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Change in grades, getting into trouble at school, or refusing to go to school
  • Change in eating habits
  • Feeling angry
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling worthless or restless
  • Frequent sadness or crying
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities
  • Loss of energy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

But depression isn’t the only condition that can be the result of obesity. Conditions like sleep apnea, for example, are equally harmful, both in the short and long term. In fact, sleep apnea can also cause or exacerbate the symptoms of depression. When the airway isn’t functioning properly and sleep is disrupted, it can create chaos throughout the body and mind. Additionally, when a child breathes out of their mouth, also known as mouth breathing, it’s often the first sign of sleep apnea.

Dr. David Buck, a neuromuscular dentist in Washington state, stresses the importance of a healthy airway in preventing issues like sleep apnea. His practice works with their patients orthodontically to develop healthy, functional smiles that set the patient up for long-term health.

"The goal of orthodontics is healthier and more beautiful faces, but underneath that beautiful face is a fundamental base foundation of health that’s going to give them an advantage, particularly as it relates to airway," Buck said. "If those children become adolescents and adults who nasally breathe and sleep well, they’re going to have a better chance cognitively and developmentally They’re going to develop better intellectually than if they’re struggling to breathe or breathing through their mouth."

Because our bodies are holistic units, each part trying to work collaboratively with the other, it makes sense that things like obesity and sleep apnea can lead to an increased risk of depression later in life. After all, everything in the human body is connected.

"The whole package goes together," Buck said. "Facial aesthetics and harmony, dental functional harmony and stability, oral posture harmony and stability and airway in terms of sleep harmony and stability. It’s all connected."


[1] "Healthy Schools." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 Jan. 2017. Web. 22 May 2017.
[2] European Association for the Study of Obesity. "Being overweight in childhood may heighten lifetime risk of depression." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 May 2017. 

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