Depression, Anxiety Meds Linked to Development of Obesity

Jasper Smits director of SMU's Anxiety and Treatment Program, is the lead author of a study that links obesity to psychotropic medications.

By  Joan Arehart-Treichel

A growing body of evidence points to a cross-sectional link between obesity and affective disorders.

Furthermore, a prospective study of some 5,000 people conducted by Finnish researchers over a 19-year period and published in the August 2009 British Journal of Psychiatry suggested that anxiety and depression tend to precede and contribute to the development of obesity, not vice versa.

But if anxiety and depression can lead to obesity, how does it happen? By prompting people to overeat to relieve their anxious or depressed states? A new study suggests that such a hypothesis may not be correct. It appears instead that it is the psychotropic medications that anxious and depressed people take—not the anxiety and depression per se—that increase their risk of obesity.

The lead author of the new study, the findings of which are published in the November 2010 Journal of Psychiatric Research, was Jasper Smits, Ph.D., director of the Anxiety and Treatment Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Smits and his colleagues set out to determine if mood and anxiety disorders might contribute to the development of obesity through the use of psychotropic medications. They used data from a nationally representative survey of Canadians from all 10 provinces aged 15 or older called the Canadian Community Health Survey Cycle 1.2, which included some 37,000 subjects.

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