Overweight young people are more likely to develop depressive symptoms than those who do not have weight problems, researchers have said.

A team from Uppsala University in Sweden has been looking at patterns of behaviour among teenagers and the different genders.

They said depression is more common in adolescent females, but boys who are considered obese are more likely to suffer from mental health problems.

One of the researchers Sofia Kanders, a PhD student from the university’s Department of Neuroscience, said: “The purpose of our study was to investigate the connection between body mass index (BMI) and depressive symptoms, and to take a close look at whether being subjected to bullying affects this relationship over time. We also wanted to investigate whether any gender differences existed.”

The trial involved asking more than 1,720 young people aged about 14 to answer a series of questions about their height, weight and any feelings of depression they may have experienced. They were asked to do this on three separate occasions between 2012 and 2018. The teenagers were grouped differently depending on their weight.

Regardless of their weight the girls reported more frequent depressive feelings. Although weight did not seem to impact the females much, a higher BMI did affect the boys’ mental health, the study found.

Ms Kanders said: “When we analysed girls and boys separately, we saw that for boys with obesity in 2012, the risk for having depressive symptoms in 2015 was, statistically, five times higher than for normal-weight boys. In the girls we found no such connection.”

The survey also asked each participant about their experiences of bullying. The findings suggested that bullying did impact both genders, especially in overweight males.

Ms Kanders added: “One key conclusion and take-home message from our study is that bullying can affect mental illness for a long time to come, which therefore makes preventive measures against bullying in schools extremely important.”

The study has been published in the Journal of Public Health.

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