The widespread use of antidepressants may play a role in increasing the risk for weight gain at the population level, according to a study published in the BMJ.

Rafael Gafoor, PhD, MRCPsych, of the School of Population Health and Environmental Sciences at King’s College London, and associates conducted a population-based group analysis to determine the long-term correlation between antidepressant use and body weight.

The study included 136,762 men and 157,957 women with 3 or more records for body mass index (BMI). The primary outcomes analyzed were prescribing antidepressants, occurrence of ≥ 5% body weight increase, and overweight to obesity transitions.

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At baseline, 13.0% of men and 22.4% of women were prescribed antidepressants; average age of participants at baseline was 51.5 years. After 1,836,452 person year follow-up, the occurrence of ≥ 5% body weight increase was 8.1 per 100 person years for volunteers who were not prescribed antidepressants and 11.2 per 100 person years for individuals who were prescribed (adjusted rate ratio, 1.21).

Weight gain increased during 6 or more years of follow-up. Twenty-seven volunteers were treated with antidepressants for 1 year for 1 additional occurrence of ≥ 5% weight increase in their second year of treatment.

For the overweight to obesity outcomes the measured parameters were normal weight to overweight and overweight to obese (adjusted rate ratios; 1.29 and 1.29, respectively).

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The authors noted that the correlations may not be causal.

“Widespread utilization of antidepressants may be contributing to long term increased risk of weight gain at population level,” the authors wrote. “The potential for weight gain should be considered when antidepressant treatment is indicated.”


Gafoor R, Booth HP, Gulliford MC. Antidepressant utilization and incidence of weight gain during 10 years’ follow-up: population based cohort study. BMJ. 2018;361:k1951