Depressed? Here Comes the Belly Fat

Study shows that depression and weight around the middle are linked. Find out why.

Joan Westlake

HealthKey.com contributor

July 7, 2010


If you don't feel sad enough when you're depressed, here's something to really feel down about—over time, depressed people develop more belly fat that those who aren't clinically blue. And, don't think that it is the big belly that is making people so sad. There is no evidence that overweight people are more likely to be depressed than any other folks.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham examined data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study, which provides 20 years of data compiled about more than 5,100 men and women aged 18 to 30. They were looking for a number of factors comparing depressed people to those who were not:

Their results, published in the June 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, showed that over a 15-year period, all the subjects put on some pounds. However, those who were depressed gained more. Study co-author Belinda Needham, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, added that the subjects who said they were depressed at the beginning of the study gained weight much faster than others in the study, and it wound up around their bellies. However, subjects who from the start were overweight, were no more likely to develop depression than anyone else.

For nearly a decade, research has continued to show that belly or visceral fat increases inflammation, which can trigger many forms of disease in humans. Over time, abdominal fat lodges deep within visceral organs, such as the heart, liver and blood vessels, and can increase the risk of heart disease.

The Alabama researchers agree with many others that the culprit behind the link between depression and belly fat is the hormone cortisol. Found in higher levels among those stressed and depressed, it can trigger cravings for high-fat, sugar-loaded food. And, it doesn't just pack on the pounds; it diverts them to the worse possible place from a health standpoint, the tummy.

Needham says that there are two important facts that the study revealed: For more information visit the American Journal of Public Health.