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Running head: LEADING CAUSE OF OBESITY

Is the Leading Cause of Obesity Related to Depression?


Courtney Davis
Coastal Carolina University
Spring 2016: 26 April 2016

LEADING CAUSE OF OBESITY

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Abstract

There are many different things that cause obesity, usually your environment, physiology, and
genetics are what mainly determine your health. Many different experiments have been done to
examine the relationship and causes of obesity. That is examining how a persons lifestyle and
daily patterns affect their body-weight and whether or not they have an eating condition. This
research paper is looking for ways to understand whether or not depression is linked to obesity
and whether or not they go hand and hand with each other.
Keywords: obesity, lifestyle, causes, health related, depression.

LEADING CAUSE OF OBESITY

Is the Leading Cause of Obesity Related to Mental Health?


Obesity is slowly climbing the ladder to becoming the number one leading cause of death
in the United States. According to the CDC, currently over 35% of Americans are obese, and
those numbers are projected to rise over 50 percent by year 2030 (2012). Obesity is becoming a
more prevalent issue in todays society because it starts with children and it continues into their
adulthood, slowly starting to control their lives. There are many different things that lead up to
becoming obese, things related to your mental health, different medication that you could be
taking, becoming diagnosed with a medical illness, or being lazy and deciding to supersize
every meal that you eat. Despite all the attention of the health profession, the media, the public,
and mass educational campaigns about the benefits of healthier diets and increased physical
activity, the prevalence of obesity in the United States has more than doubled over the past four
decades (Carroll, 2002). The United States still tends to eat larger portion sizes when comparing
to other countries, the United States people eat on average 500-800 more calories a day that is
needed which is equivalent to gaining about an extra pound every week. According to Hellmich,
we are eating larger potion sizes than we need to be eating, but still are not being as physically
active as we should be (2003). It is questioned whether or not the weight gain is a reflection of
health issues or if the person is lazy and is self inflicting the weight gain on themselves. People
in the United States could blame their over weight condition to the lack of exercise opportunity,
and in many places there are no bike paths, sidewalks, or easily accessible stairways (Marks,
2004). People could also blame their weight condition on their social economic condition and
where they stand on the totem pole with the rest of society. If there is a person living in poverty
and in the lower class, their local grocery store may not be stocked with the best selection of

LEADING CAUSE OF OBESITY

healthy foods to eat, and not even that, they may not have transportation to get to that local
grocery store. Being in a low socio economic class can lead to depression, and depression is
linked to obesity, furthermore living in such a low poverty area that is not safe to get out and
walk around in can be a factor as well. Regardless of your social economic background, all
people eat for social, cultural, and emotional reasons, not just for hunger (Marks, 2004).
There are many prominent causes leading up to becoming obese that have to do with
health factors. Depression hasnt been proven to be a direct cause to becoming obese but the two
do feed off of one another. A study was done in Cincinnati which found that children with
depression were more likely to become obese within the next year of their lives. Also, the study
found that for kids who were already somewhat obese and depressed, became substantially more
obese within the next year. When people are experiencing depression they are more likely to
overeat or make poor food choices, avoid exercising, and become more sedentary (Thompson,
2011). Researchers have found that depressed people with decreased levels of the hormone
serotonin also have a tendency to lean towards obesity, they tend to eat in an attempt to selfmedicate and restore their serotonin levels to normal (Thompson, 2011). Stress is another major
health cause that leads to becoming obese. Researchers have found specific hormones that play
a part in becoming over weight, for example, serotonin, it is the bodies feel good hormone and
when you eat carbohydrates it triggers this hormone which makes you feel good and makes you
think its okay to keep eating them (Thompson, 2009). When you get under a load of stress, your
body becomes wired to seek out unhealthy foods. More recent studies have shown that when
individuals are under a bunch of stress, our bodies process food differently.

LEADING CAUSE OF OBESITY

When debating whether or not obesity is considered to be self-inflicted you have to take
into account the medical part of the situation. Ten years ago, doctors were dubbed health
fascists for suggesting that people who had looked after their health should get priority over
those who had not (Pallot, 2006). It is a practical scenario because some individuals become
diagnosed with medical illnesses, and a side affect of those illnesses is that they involuntarily
gain weight and sometimes the weight gain is not controllable. For someone who has selfinflicted their weight gain upon themselves, to get chosen first in the medical field for help,
should be considered an issue, and should become something that is talked about as well as
investigated and researched more steadily. It is very important to understand what the highest
contributing factor is leading up to obesity, that is, whether it is health related problems or selfinflicted problems. Once the major contributor is found, the faster researchers can try to find a
way to help and/or decrease the percentage of obesity in the United States. Obesity is such an
important topic to be discussed due to all the factors that lead up to it, and also all of the side
effects that come from being obese. Being obese can lead to increased risk for diabetes,
cardiovascular disease (CVD), and other serious conditions (Marks, 2004).
You can work day in and day out to try to help someone lose weight. You can encourage
them to eat healthier, you can make their portions of food smaller, encourage them and join them
in doing physical activities because even these small measures can go a long way. It all comes
back to what initially caused the over weight condition.
Depression is also important when trying to find a correlation to see if depression and
obesity go hand in hand with one another. It is very common for an individual to feel sad or be in
states of grief, but if those feelings last longer than a few days, that is when it becomes a

LEADING CAUSE OF OBESITY

question of depression. According to George T. Krucik, MD, 350 million people in world suffer
from depression world wide, that is equivalent to 5% of the population. Sadness and emptiness
aren't the only emotional feelings that go along with feeling depressed, a person could also feel
extreme irritability over minor things, anxiety, restlessness, anger management issues, loss of
interest in your favorite activities, and thoughts of death and suicide (Krucik, 2015). Along with
emotional side effects, a person could also experience physical side effects, which could be one
or more of the following, insomnia, sleeping to much, weight loss/weight gain, unexplained
aches and pains, and difficulty concentrating (Krucik, 2015). Obesity and depression could each
be a cause of one another, depression can lead to weight gain and obesity could lead to states of
depression.
There was a study done by Carol Shieh from Indiana University School of Nursing and
Jingwei Wu from Indiana University School of Medicine, to examine the relationships between
depressive symptoms and obesity weight gain factors in 56 Black and Hispanic pregnant women
and to understand the differences among ethnic groups. They found that in this study that the
depressive symptoms were related to the fact that the ladies were pregnant because their BMI
levels were rapidly increasing (Sheih, Wu, 2014). Results showed that black women were more
likely to have excessive gestational weight gain than Hispanic women.
This study will help answer the question about whether or not mental illnesses plays a
part in obesity or not. There was a study done in 2014 by Marmorstein, who knew that obesity
and depression are associated with each other, but wanted to understand the timeline of events
and how they have been related over time from adolescence to adulthood. This in turn, will help
to understand the question about mental illnesses associated with obesity. A cross sectional study

LEADING CAUSE OF OBESITY

was done to help understand the association from when the participants start the study at age
eleven, to when they finish the study at age twenty four. Marmorstein et al. (2014) found that by
the age of twenty four, the likelihood of becoming obese and becoming depressed were
significantly correlated.
A study by Dobson was done to see if there was a bidirectional association between
weight change and depression in middle aged women, it was done as a population-based
longitudinal study. The study had a total of 8246 women who were aging from 4550 years old,
and the study took place in Australia. Dobson wanted to see the relationship between average
annual percentage weight change and depression in middle aged women, and it was found that
weight gain was at risk to increase if the person had a history of depression. It did not necessarily
say that depression was at a direct link to obesity but it said that the two were correlated with one
another.
Regardless of whether or not an overweight person is intentionally doing this to
themselves, or if it is coming from a deeper problem inside of them, it is a huge issue none the
less. Many people who are over weight eventually become depressed because when they look in
the mirror they dont like what they see, or because they wanted more for themselves, as well as
feeling like they have let people down who are close to them. Depression is a side effect that
comes along with being obese and going through a period of rapid weight gain, but does being
depressed cause obesity? It can be looked at from many different point of views, but usually
depression depletes our willpower, making us less likely to avoid eating unhealthy foods, it also
causes us to crave high-fat foods and sugar (CDC, 2012). A term we call emotional eating is a
big factor when trying to understand the link between obesity and depression because when

LEADING CAUSE OF OBESITY

someone emotionally eats, they are eating foods that are high in sugar and high in fats because
those are the kinds of food that tend to make individuals feel better, thus, causing one to
associate happiness with those foods high in fats, because they know that such foods make them
feel better in coping with their depression.
Health factors are a more prominent cause in obesity rather than it being self-inflicted.
This is because the higher stress level one has, the more prone they are to developing an overweight condition because they end up going in a circle in terms of their eating habits. That is,
they eat because they get stressed, but then they become stressed because they ate too much.
The relationship between obesity and depression is an importation topic to understand
because it goes un-seen most of the time which causes which but it is important to understand the
the underlying causes that go along with being depressed and if they also go hand in hand with
gaining weight. Many people who stress eat because they are depressed or they emotional eat, do
not understand how much that impacts their weight when they start to do it on a daily basis. With
all the information at hand, it would be clear to assume that the relationship between depression
and obesity are positively correlated. I am predicting that when someone is depressed, it would
positively correlate with their weight increasing.
Method
Participants
This study is a longitudinal study, which is a kind of observational study that uses the
same group of people to gather results in a period of time. Longitudinal studies can be stretched
over the time period of years or even decades. The research study is going to stretch out over a
year worth of time. The study is going to observe a total group of 20 people, a combination of
men and women, over the period of a year. Half the participants have been medically diagnosed

LEADING CAUSE OF OBESITY

as depressed and the other half claim to be happy, and not depressed. A medical diagnosis is
defined as a diagnosis based on information from sources such as findings from a physical
examination, interview with the patient or family or both, medical history of the patient and
family, and clinical findings as reported by laboratory tests and radiologic studies (Medical
Dictionary). Being depressed is being in a state of pure unhappiness. The 20 participants in the
study were volunteers who were willing to participate in the study and allow the study to follow
their journey throughout the year.
Materials
A scale and a body mass index indicator will be used to measure the participants body
mass every three months throughout the year that the study would be going on. Two graphs will
be used for the study, one graph for the group of participants who are not depressed and another
graph for the group of participants who are mentally diagnosed as depressed. The graph will be a
two bar graph, one bar for their weight and one bar for the body mass index. Thus making it very
easy to see the correlation between the two indicators and the two different groups of
participants.
Procedures
The participants were told that this research study was being conducted to understand the
relationship between depression and obesity and if depression causes an increase in weight and
an increase in the likelihood that someone will be come obese or over weight. To operationalize
the variable obese, obese is defined as gaining so much weight that it is unsafe for your health.
The participants in the study were also told that the study being conducted is referred to as a
longitudinal study. A longitudinal study requires them to be available for research for the time
desired, in this case a year, and that they would have to sign a form saying that they are available

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for the year so the research can be conducted properly. At any time if they wish to pull
themselves from the study, they can with contact information provided to them if they every
wanted to get in touch with the research results. At the beginning of this research study, 20
participant were gathered, men and women, who are willing to take place in this study. Ten of the
participants are volunteers who are happy people going about their lives, and the other ten people
are medically diagnosed as depressed. The ten participants who are medically diagnosed as
depressed volunteered to allow the study to follow their journey for a year. The first day of the
study would consist of weighing each participant and their body mass index and recording it.
Following that, every three months the participants weight and body mass index will be
measured and recorded. Those measurements will be taken and recorded every three months till
the year is up and the study is concluded. Once the year is over, there will be 6 groups of
measurements for each participant . Their weight and body mass index will be measured before
the study starts, every third month after that, and then at the very end of the experiment. The data
will be gathered and will give enough information, allowing a conclusion to be formed in terms
of understanding whether or not depression is a direct influence on obesity.

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References

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Dobson, A. (2014). Bidirectional association between weight change and depression
in mid-aged women: a population-based longitudinal study. International Journal of
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Hellmich, N. (2003). Obesity predicted for 40% of America. USA Today October 14, 2003
Krucik, G. (2015). Depression and mental health by the numbers: Facts, statistics, and you.
Healthline. April 25, 2015. Retrieved by: http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/
Marks, J. (2004). Obesity in America: its getting worse. Clinical Diabetes. Vol 2
Marmorstein, N. (2014). Obesity and depression in adolescence and beyond: reciprocal risks.
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Pallot, P. (2006). Sympathy wanes for sufferers of the 'self-inflicted illnesses. The Telegraph.
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Thompson, D. (2011). Depression can lead to overeating and weight gain; obesity can lead to
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