Obesity and depression: results from the longitudinal Northern Finland 1966 Birth Cohort Study

Int J Obes (Lond). 2006 Mar;30(3):520-7. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803174.


Objective: To examine the association between body size and depression in a longitudinal setting and to explore the connection between obesity and depression in young adults at the age of 31 years.

Design: This study forms part of the longitudinal Northern Finland 1966 Birth Cohort Study (N = 12,058). The follow-up studies were performed at 14 and 31 years. Data were collected by postal inquiry at 14 years and by postal inquiry and clinical examination at 31 years.

Subjects: A total of 8,451 subjects (4,029 men and 4,422 women) who gave a written informed consent and information on depression by three depression indicators at 31 years.

Measurements: Body size at 14 (body mass index (BMI) and 31 (BMI and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR)) years and depression at 31 years by three different ways: depressive symptoms by the HSCL-25-depression questionnaire (HSCL-25), the use of antidepressants and self-reported physician-diagnosed depression.

Results: Obesity at 14 years associated with depressive symptoms at 31 years; among male subjects using the cutoff point 2.01 in the HSCL-25 (adjusted odds ratio (OR) 1.97, 95% CI 1.06-3.68), among female subjects using the cutoff point 1.75 (adjusted OR 1.64, 95% CI 1.16-2.32). Female subjects who were obese both at baseline and follow-up had depressive symptoms relatively commonly (adjusted OR 1.40, 95% CI 1.06-1.85 at cutoff point 1.75); a similar association was not found among male subjects. The proportion of those who used antidepressants was 2.17-fold higher among female subjects who had gained weight compared to female subjects who had stayed normal-weighted (adjusted OR 2.17, 95% CI 1.28-3.68). In the cross-sectional analyses male subjects with abdominal obesity (WHR >or=85th percentile) had a 1.76-fold risk of depressive symptoms using the cutoff 2.01 in the HSCL-25 (adjusted OR 1.76, 95% CI 1.08-2.88). Abdominally obese male subjects had a 2.07-fold risk for physician-diagnosed depression (adjusted OR 2.07, 95% CI 1.23-3.47) and the proportion of those who used antidepressants was 2.63-fold higher among obese male subjects than among male subjects without abdominal obesity (adjusted OR 2.63, 95% CI 1.33-5.21). Abdominal obesity did not associate with depression in female subjects.

Conclusion: Obesity in adolescence may be associated with later depression in young adulthood, abdominal obesity among male subjects may be closely related to concomitant depression, and being overweight/obese both in adolescence and adulthood may be a risk for depression among female subjects.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anthropometry / methods
  • Body Mass Index
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / complications*
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Overweight
  • Prevalence
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Waist-Hip Ratio
  • Weight Gain