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Major Depression Predicts an Increase in Long-Term Body Weight Variability in Young Adults


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Objective: To test the hypothesis that major depression predicts an increase in long-term body weight variability (BWV).

Research Methods and Procedures: This was a prospective community-based single-age cohort study of young adults (N = 591) followed between the ages of 19 and 40. Following initial screening, information was derived from six subsequent semistructured diagnostic interviews conducted by mental health professionals. Major depression was diagnosed on the basis of DSM criteria. BWV was defined as the root mean square error of a regression line fitted to each individual's BMI values over time. Multiple regression analysis was used to test the association between major depression and BWV while controlling for potentially confounding variables including antidepressant treatment, eating disorder symptoms, and physical activity. We used random effects models to determine the temporal relationship between repeated measures of major depression and body weight change.

Results: A highly significant positive association between major depression and BWV was found, whereas major depression was not associated with BMI level or BMI trend. Depression severity showed a dose-response-type relationship with the magnitude of BWV. After controlling for potentially confounding variables including antidepressant use, eating disorder symptoms, smoking, and physical activity, major depression remained a significant predictor of BWV (β= 0.13, p < 0.001). Longitudinal analysis revealed a unidirectional association between major depression and a later increase in body weight change rate irrespective of antidepressant medication.

Discussion: Results from this study implicate depression as an important risk factor for increased BWV. Given increasing evidence for a link between major depression and both diabetes and cardiovascular disease, current results encourage further research on depression, BWV, and negative health outcomes.