Is increased antidepressant exposure a contributory factor to the obesity pandemic?

Transl Psychiatry. 2016 Mar 15;6(3):e759. doi: 10.1038/tp.2016.25.


Major depressive disorder (MDD) and obesity are both common heterogeneous disorders with complex aetiology, with a major impact on public health. Antidepressant prescribing has risen nearly 400% since 1988, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In parallel, adult obesity rates have doubled since 1980, from 15 to 30 percent, while childhood obesity rates have more than tripled. Rising obesity rates have significant health consequences, contributing to increased rates of more than thirty serious diseases. Despite the concomitant rise of antidepressant use and of the obesity rates in Western societies, the association between the two, as well as the mechanisms underlying antidepressant-induced weight gain, remain under explored. In this review, we highlight the complex relationship between antidepressant use, MDD and weight gain. Clinical findings have suggested that obesity may increase the risk of developing MDD, and vice versa. Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activation occurs in the state of stress; concurrently, the HPA axis is also dysregulated in obesity and metabolic syndrome, making it the most well-understood shared common pathophysiological pathway with MDD. Numerous studies have investigated the effects of different classes of antidepressants on body weight. Previous clinical studies suggest that the tricyclics amitriptyline, nortriptyline and imipramine, and the serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor mirtazapine are associated with weight gain. Despite the fact that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) use has been associated with weight loss during acute treatment, a number of studies have shown that SSRIs may be associated with long-term risk of weight gain; however, because of high variability and multiple confounds in clinical studies, the long-term effect of SSRI treatment and SSRI exposure on body weight remains unclear. A recently developed animal paradigm shows that the combination of stress and antidepressants followed by long-term high-fat diet results, long after discontinuation of antidepressant treatment, in markedly increased weight, in excess of what is caused by high-fat diet alone. On the basis of existing epidemiological, clinical and preclinical data, we have generated the testable hypothesis that escalating use of antidepressants, resulting in high rates of antidepressant exposure, might be a contributory factor to the obesity epidemic.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Pandemics*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Weight Gain


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors