J Epidemiol Community Health 67:81-86 doi:10.1136/jech-2012-201435
  • Research reports

Perceived and actual obesity in childhood and adolescence and risk of adult depression

  1. Alberto Ascherio5,6
  1. 1Department of Clinical Sciences, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain
  2. 2Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain
  3. 3Division of Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine, Department of Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  4. 4Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  5. 5Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  6. 6Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  7. 7Department of Psychiatry, Depression Clinical and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  8. 8Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, Department of Clinical Sciences, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, P.O. Box 550, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria 35008, Spain; asanchez{at}
  1. Contributors AA was responsible for study design, data collection and obtaining funding. AS-V and EJO were responsible for the data analysis. AS-V was responsible for the first drafting of the manuscript. AEF, MF, SG, IK and AA have provided suggestion in data analyses and interpretation and critically revised the manuscript. All authors have taken due care to ensure the integrity of the work. AA had full access to all the data in the study and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication.

  • Accepted 11 June 2012
  • Published Online First 5 July 2012


Background Obesity in childhood and adolescence has important health consequences, but its relation to risk of adult depression remains uncertain.

Objective To examine the effect of perceived and actual obesity during childhood and adolescence on prevalence and incidence of adult depression risk.

Methods Cohort study of 91 798 female registered nurses followed longitudinally for 12 years.

Results As compared with lean women of the same age, women in the two highest categories of body shape at age 10 had both higher prevalence (OR=2.59, 95% CI 1.46 to 4.61) and incidence (OR=2.01, 95% CI 1.08 to 3.71) of depression. Similar results were obtained for body shape at age 20 (OR=3.43 for prevalence and OR=2.03 for incidence) and for body mass index (BMI) at age 18 (OR=2.92 for BMI ≥40 kg/m2). These associations remained significant after adjustment for multiple confounders.

Conclusion These results indicate that childhood–adolescence obesity is a strong and independent risk factor for adult depression.


  • Funding AA is the recipient of an Independent Investigator Award from the National Association for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression that contributed in part to funding of this project. The Spanish Ministry of Education granted AS-V with a 6-month stay at Harvard University (PR2004-0475). The funding sources had no role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report and in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.