Child Depression – Obesity: The Connection

By Tess Thompson

Establishing a link between obesity and child depression is like trying to determine whether the egg came first or the chicken. Both are so interrelated that it becomes difficult to explain especially due to the fact that medical science knows pretty little about brain functions. The connection between obesity and depression can stem from:
*    The relationship between the nervous and the endocrine systems.
*    The social factors associated with obesity.

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) is a complex set of direct and reciprocal interactions between the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. It controls the reactions to stress and many body functions like digestion, the immune system, sexuality and moods. All three work in tandem to maintain the chemical reaction and its reverse when the body is in stress. The HPA axis is primarily responsible for releasing the ‘stress hormone’, cortisol. It is an adrenal-cortex hormone that is involved in carbohydrate and protein metabolism, increase in blood pressure, the management of blood sugar levels and immunosuppressive action. As cortisol gives a cue to the body to deposit fat around the abdomen, chronic stress can cause obesity.

Social factors like teasing and isolation are responsible for the part that psychology plays in obese children developing depression. Even though there has always been a premium on a good bodily physique and a stigma associated with obesity, the pressures and consequences have never been as strong as now. Obesity may negatively affect teen psyche and lead to a low self assessment. This results in a lack of mobility and high stress that can affect the normal hormonal pathways and cause depression.

It is suggested that there is a mutual and reciprocal action between what goes on outside and inside the body. The connection between teen depression and obesity is probably to be found in the combination of both social and biological factors.

If depression is left untreated, it can at the same time be a cause and effect of obesity. Obesity is not only about how you look but also about what you feel. Teasing, besides other factors, is probably the most common factor behind a low esteem, poor image and depression among obese teens.

Depression, however, should not be confused with passing phases of sadness or melancholy that everyone goes through many times in life. Depression as a clinical disorder is a continuous feeling of sadness that lasts for more than three months, either singly or accompanied by other behavioral changes like disruptive sleeping and eating patterns, anger and rage, violent behavior and changes in activity levels.

Parents can provide teen depression help to their obese children by treating obesity as a health problem rather than associating it with appearance. Obesity is not necessarily associated with overeating. Just as there are different causes for depression, obesity too has various causes.



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