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Adolescent Weight and Depressive Symptoms: For Whom is Weight a Burden?


  • *Direct correspondence to Michelle L. Frisco, Department of Sociology and Population Research Institute, The Pennsylvania State University, 211 Oswald Tower, University Park, PA 16802 〈〉. Dr. Frisco will share all data and coding information with readers who wish to replicate the study. Note, though, that this study uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a research program designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Anyone wishing to use the Add Health data must obtain proper approval from Add Health administrators. The authors acknowledge support from the Penn State University Population Research Institute, a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD40428-02, PI: Gary Sandefur), and the Career Development Program in Women's Health Research at Penn State (K 12HD055882, PI: Carol Weisman), a program sponsored by NICHD. The authors thank Kristin Burnett, Ashleigh May, Tamar Mendelson, Kristi Williams, Penn State Population Research Institute brownbag attendees, and Rutgers University Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research seminar series attendees for their helpful comments on this article.


Objective. Adolescent weight and depressive symptoms are serious population health concerns in their own right and as they relate to each other. This study asks whether relationships between weight and depressive symptoms vary by sex and race/ethnicity because both shape experiences of weight and psychological distress.

Methods. Results are based on multivariate analyses of National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) data.

Results. There are no associations between adolescent girls' weight and depressive symptoms, but these associations vary considerably among boys. Underweight is associated with depressive symptoms among all boys and subpopulations of white and Hispanic boys. Among Hispanic boys, those who are overweight (vs. normal weight) have a lower probability of reporting depressive symptoms. Finally, among normal weight boys, Hispanics and blacks are more likely to report depressive symptoms than whites.

Conclusions. Findings are a reminder that understanding population health issues sometimes requires a focus on subpopulations, not simply the population as a whole.