GPs urged to treat obesity as red flag for depression

A quarter of obese patients may have depression, research suggests, prompting a call for GPs to view the condition as a red flag to screen for the mental illness.

Obesity may signal depression
Obesity may signal depression

Both obese and underweight patients are more than twice as likely to develop depression as people at a healthy weight, researchers in Australia found.

They said unhealthy weight should act as a trigger for opportunistic screening of depression in general practice.

Their study asked 3,361 adult patients at 12 Australian general practices to provide their height and weight and complete a PHQ-9.

Over 20% of adults had a BMI >30 and were classified as obese, and 2.6% were underweight with a BMI of <18.5.

A total of 23% of obese patients and 24% of underweight patients had depression. In contrast, prevalence of depression was 11% among normal-weight patients and 12% in overweight patients.

Factors linked to obesity, such as stigmatisation and low self-esteem, can lead to depression. In turn, depression symptoms such as weight gain and physical inactivity can then exacerbate problems with unhealthy weight, researchers said.

Yet, despite the common co-occurrence of depression and unhealthy weight, there are no models for providing combined treatment, researchers said.

They said: 'In conclusion, weight and depression demonstrated a U-shaped relationship, with higher prevalence of depression observed among underweight and obese general practice patients.

‘These conditions may act as red flags for opportunistic screening in the general practice setting.’

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