Using the health outcomes of children enrolled in the Swedish Childhood Obesity Treatment Register compared to a sample from a general population of the same age, researchers have determined that children with obesity are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and premature death, independently of other well-established risk factors. The findings were made in two recent studies by the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, which were published in PLOS Medicine and BMC Medicine.
Researchers determined that people with obesity in childhood were about three times more likely to die in early adulthood than a comparison group from the general population. The study included about 7,000 individuals who received obesity treatment at some point between the ages of 3 and 17, who were then matched with the outcomes of about 34,000 people of the same age, gender, and area of residence. A total of 39 people (0.55 %) in the childhood obesity group died by the time a follow-up period came around, on average, 3.6 years later, compared with 65 (0.19%) in the control group. The average age at the time of death was 22 years old.
The increased risk of mortality in children with obesity was affiliated predominantly with two causes of death- somatic diseases, which are characterized by an extreme focus on physical symptoms such as pain or fatigue, and suicide. “Both the risk of death from somatic diseases, of which more than a quarter were directly related to obesity, and the risk of suicide were increased for this group. We did not, however, see an increased risk of mortality from injuries or external causes such as criminal acts.”
Researchers said that the underlying causality between obesity and elevated rates of psychological problems will need to be evaluated in further studies. Possible explanatioas for the findings may be that childhood obesity is linked to somatic diseases such as diabetes, liver disease, and high blood pressure. Children and adolescents with obesity are also more exposed to discrimination.
Karolinska Institutet conducted another study, published in BMC Medicine, which found that obesity was linked to an increased risk of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents. For girls with obesity, this risk was 43% higher, compared to 33% higher for boys. In this study, more than 12,000 children with obesity were matched with a group of 60,000 children from the general population.
“Taken together our studies highlight the vulnerable situation that children with obesity are in,” Louise Lindberg, one of the study’s authors, said. “Anxiety and depression cause emotional and physiological stress and suffering and may also hinder obesity treatment. It is important that children with obesity are offered adequate and long-term treatment early in life to reduce these risks. It is deeply unethical that children with obesity do not receive any form of treatment in some regions in Sweden.”