Study Reveals Connection Between Mental Health Issues and Obesity in Adolescents

A new study by scientists from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and Lund University, has discovered that many young people who are treated for severe obesity also possess neuropsychiatric issues. More than half of the teens from the study suffered from various mental health conditions, as reported by their parents or themselves.

While the link between eating disorders, depression and ADHD has long been observed by researchers, not a lot of research that has been focused on the connection. However, the research that is available has shown that from the early 2000s, both mental illness and obesity have increased in young people.

The study involved 48 teenage participants with an average body mass index (“BMI”) of 42; 15 was the average age and a BMI of 42 on the scale represents severe obesity. Of all the participants, half underwent surgery for obesity while the remaining half obtained medical treatment for the same.

The parents of the study’s participants completed questionnaires that were used to measure symptoms of autism and ADHD in their children. The participants were also asked questions about symptoms of depression and binge eating.

The study findings show that a majority of the adolescents’ parents believed that their children had challenges resembling autism and/or ADHD. This is despite the fact that only a handful of the teenagers had been diagnosed with these conditions previously.

Kajsa Järvholm, a researchers involved in the study and a psychology researcher at the aforementioned universities, explained that an individual who exhibits ADHD symptoms but has not been diagnosed with the disorder may have a difficulty with impulse control. This increases the tendency to choose quick solutions such as junk food while also increasing the risk of eating even when one is not hungry.

She added that while individuals on the autism spectrum were occasionally more particular with what they ate when compared to others, those individuals may still end up eating more of these select dishes due to the said selectiveness.

Of the total number of participants, a third of them admitted that they had problems with binge eating while a fifth of them revealed that they suffered from symptoms of depression. Binge eating refers to a common eating disorder that involves the frequent consumption of unusually huge amounts of food in a single sitting in an out of control way. Järvholm observed that the teenagers who had neuropsychiatric difficulties did not report more issues with depression and binge eating when compared to the other adolescents in the study.

In its entirety, the study found that two-thirds of the adolescents had problems stemming from depression, binge eating and/or neuropsychiatric problems. The researchers surmise that the study results display a need to personalize treatments for teenagers with severe obesity as a majority reported mental illness.

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