Weight affects white, Hispanic kids' mental health

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study adds to evidence that overweight teenagers are more prone to depression and anxiety, but suggests the effects vary by race and ethnicity.

Researchers found that among more than 35,000 U.S. teenagers in a national health survey, white and Hispanic teens who were overweight were more likely to have symptoms of depression or anxiety than their thinner counterparts.

However, this was not true of overweight African-American teenagers, the researchers report in the journal Pediatrics.

The reasons for the racial and ethnic differences are not apparent from the findings, according to Dr. Rhonda BeLue and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

In other studies, they note, suggest that black teenagers are simply not as bothered by excess pounds as white teens are, and seem to be under less pressure from family and friends to be thin.

It’s also possible that black teenagers often deal with a “constellation” of stresses in their lives, so that excess weight has little impact on their mental well-being, BeLue and her colleagues note.

The findings are based on a government survey of parents of 35,184 adolescents 12-to-1-year hold. Among white and Hispanic parents, those with an overweight child were more likely to say the teen had depression or anxiety.

In general, African-American teens had higher rates of some of these problems, but weight seemed to have no influence.

The findings, according to BeLue’s team, suggest that when doctors address teenagers’ weight problems, they should also try to assess their mental health. At the same time, they add, programs aimed at tackling childhood obesity should be aware that different groups of kids may have different risks of mental health problems.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, February 2009.