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Childhood overweight and maternal depressive symptoms
  1. P J Surkan1,
  2. I Kawachi2,
  3. K E Peterson3
  1. 1
    Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2
    Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3
    Departments of Society, Human Development and Health and Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Dr P Surkan, PhD, ScD, Exposure, Epidemiology and Risk Program, Harvard School of Public Health Landmark Center, 401 Park Drive, 4th Floor West, Rm 415, Boston, MA 02215, USA; psurkan{at}


Aim: Given the rising global prevalence of overweight associated with the nutrition transition, the objective of this study was to evaluate whether maternal depressive symptoms are related to overweight in infants aged 6–24 months.

Methods: Participants in this cross-sectional study included 589 mother–child dyads from low-income urban communities in Teresina, Piauí, northeast Brazil. While adjusting for sociodemographic and biological determinants of child growth, the study assessed the relationship between mothers’ depressive symptom scores, measured with the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and child weight-for-height using multivariable logistic regression. Child overweight was calculated with the World Health Organization growth curves using 85th and 95th percentile cutoffs of the weight-for-height z-score (WHZ).

Results: Children of mothers with high depressive symptoms had 1.7 and 2.3 higher odds of being over WHZ cutoffs for the 85th and 95th percentile, respectively. Child age between 18 and 24 months (compared with children 6–12 months old), being low birth weight, not receiving the Family Health Programme and breastfeeding between 6 and 12 months (compared with <6 months) were other factors inversely related to at least one of the overweight indicators (odds ratio (OR) range 0.3 to 0.6). Having a mother with fewer than 8 years of education was positively associated with child overweight (OR 1.4, 95% CI 1.0 to 2.1, for WHZ >85th%).

Conclusion: Results suggest that maternal depressive symptoms are related to overweight in children aged 6–24 months.

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  • Funding: This project was supported by a Sheldon Fellowship from the Committee on General Scholarships at Harvard University and the Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, which provided travel grants and support for data collection.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethics approval: This study was approved by the Human Subjects Committee at Harvard School of Public Health.