In addition to weight loss, structured pediatric obesity treatment programs can help reduce anxiety and depression in this high-risk population, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.1

“Children and adolescents with obesity are at a 34% increased risk of developing depression than their peers,” noted the authors.2 Adolescents seeking treatment for obesity may be at even higher risk of having depression or anxiety. In light of this relationship, the researchers wanted to study whether weight loss programs increased or decreased psychological symptoms.

Therefore, a team of Australian researchers conducted a meta-analysis of studies that recruited patients aged ≤18 years who were seeking treatment for obesity. Studies for inclusion also were required to report the prevalence of anxiety or depression within these patients at preintervention, postintervention, or follow-up.

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A total of 44 articles published between 1987 and 2018 met inclusion criteria. Study sample size ranged from 12 to 435 participants with a mean age range of 5.6 to 16.6 years and mean body mass index range of 24.6 to 44.9 kg/mg2.

Of 40 studies that reported depressive symptoms, 36 found a small reduction in symptoms postintervention, which was maintained at 6 to 16 months follow-up in 11 studies.

Anxiety was reduced postintervention in 10 studies and at follow-up in 4 studies. A significant association was found between the change in anxiety and the inclusion of a physical activity component to the weight loss program.

The authors noted that longer duration of intervention was associated with a greater reduction in anxiety, and a higher body mass index score at baseline was associated with a greater reduction in depression.

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“This review, together with another review that assessed the association between pediatric obesity treatment interventions and eating disorder risk (12 studies overlap with this review), provides evidence that pediatric obesity treatment is not associated with adverse effects on psychological well-being,” the authors concluded.


1. Jebeile H, Gow ML, Baur LA, Garnett SP, Paxton SJ, Lister NB. Association of pediatric obesity treatment, including a dietary component, with change in depression and anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis [published online September 16, 2019]. JAMA Pediatr. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.2841

2. Quek YH, Tam WWS, Zhang MWB, Ho RCM. Exploring the association between childhood and adolescent obesity and depression: a meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2017;18(7):742-754.