The association between childhood depression and adulthood body mass index

Pediatrics. 2001 May;107(5):1049-56. doi: 10.1542/peds.107.5.1049.


Objective: Stress in childhood relates to both childhood depression and elevated adult body mass index (BMI), a measure of relative overweight. However, there are limited data on the association between major depression in childhood and BMI in adulthood. The current study examines this association.

Method: Children 6 to 17 years old with major depression (n = 90) or no psychiatric disorder (n = 87) were identified at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and followed up 10 to 15 years later. Psychiatric status at intake and follow-up was assessed via standardized psychiatric interviews. BMI during adulthood was recorded so that the association between depression and BMI could be considered over time.

Results: Participants with childhood major depression had a BMI of 26.1 +/- 5.2 as adults, compared with a BMI of 24.2 +/- 4.1 in healthy comparisons (t(175) = 2.7). This association could not be explained by a number of potentially confounding factors, including age, gender, cigarette or alcohol use, social class, and pregnancy or medication history. Although poverty during adulthood also predicted adult BMI, both the association between poverty and adult BMI (t(152) = 2.9), as well as between childhood depression and adult BMI (t(152) = 2.2) were significant in a multivariate model. Finally, duration of depression between childhood and adulthood also emerged as a predictor of adult BMI.

Conclusions: Depression during childhood is positively associated with BMI during adulthood. This association cannot be explained by various potential confounding variables and may develop over time as children pass into their adult years.body mass index, depression, children, adolescents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychopathology