How does obesity relate to childhood depression?

Obesity and mental health disorders do not exclusively affect adults. But because of the unique socio-behavioral developmental stages of children and adolescents, it’s often difficult for parents to tell when their children need medical intervention. Children’s hospitals can give the right care and support to kids struggling with obesity and depression. You can hear from a doctor at Sunrise Children’s Hospital when you watch this featured video. He explains the significant, long-term effects of pediatric obesity on quality of life and mental health.

Understanding the childhood obesity-depression link
The association between obesity and depression in youths is a two-way street. Many children suffer from both of these medical problems. Obesity can contribute to depression for these reasons:

  • Poor self-esteem
  • Social stigma of obesity
  • Bullying behaviors from peers
  • Poor quality of life
  • Social isolation and loneliness

Youths who are already struggling with mental health disorders are at a higher risk of becoming obese. These children overeat to compensate for their feelings of loneliness, emptiness and sadness.

Taking a closer look at this complex relationship reveals relevant changes in the brain. People with depression may have low levels of serotonin in the brain, which is the hormone that facilitates feelings of well-being. Low levels of serotonin trigger cravings for carbohydrates, which then help to boost serotonin levels.

Recognizing the signs of childhood depression
For the best possible outcome, pediatric specialists need to treat both depression and obesity. Unfortunately, while parents can often tell when their children are overweight or obese, it’s more difficult to recognize the signs of pediatric depression. Children’s moods and behaviors change frequently—it’s all part of growing up.

Pediatric specialists look for the following signs and symptoms when evaluating a young patient for depressive disorders .

  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Poor attention span
  • Unusual decline in school performance
  • Withdrawal from usual activities
  • Social isolation
  • Fatigue and sluggishness or restlessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Frequent rule-breaking

Any atypical, sustained behaviors or moods can be brought to the attention of a pediatrician.

At Sunrise Children’s Hospital , we put children and families first. Our compassionate professionals include social workers and Child Life Specialists, who provide family-centered support services to children going through tough times. Parents in the Las Vegas area can request a referral to a pediatric specialist by calling (702) 233-5437.

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