Depressive symptoms are more common in adolescent females than in males. Obesity, on the other hand, appears to have a greater impact on boys’ mental health. Bullying, regardless of gender, is a far greater risk factor for developing depressive symptoms than being overweight. Researchers at Uppsala University drew these conclusions after following adolescents for six years in a questionnaire study that was recently published in the Journal of Public Health.
“The goal of our study was to look into the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and depressive symptoms, as well as whether bullying affects this relationship over time. We also wanted to see if there were any gender differences “Sofia Kanders, a PhD student at the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University, agrees.
In the study, young people born in Västmanland County answered questions about their height, weight, and depressive symptoms three times (2012, 2015 and 2018). On the first occasion, the respondents’ mean age was 14.4 years, and on the second occasion, it was 19.9 years.
Depressive symptoms are more common in teenage girls than in their male peers. However, boys’ mental health appears to be affected more if they suffer from obesity. Irrespective of gender, bullying is a considerably greater risk factor than overweight for developing depressive symptoms.
The adolescents were divided into three groups based on their BMI: normal weight, overweight, and obese. They were also divided into groups based on the severity of their depressive symptoms.
Overall, regardless of weight, the girls reported having depressive symptoms more frequently. In 2012, 17% of the females and 6% of the males did so. By 2015, the proportion of adolescents experiencing these symptoms had risen to 32% for girls and 13% for boys. In 2018, the corresponding figures were 34 and 19%, respectively.
As far as the researchers could tell, having a higher BMI had no significant impact on the girls’ mental health. The pattern observed among the boys, on the other hand, was completely different.
“When we looked at boys and girls separately, we discovered that the risk of having depressive symptoms in 2015 was statistically five times higher for boys who were obese in 2012. We found no such connection in the girls “Kanders claims. The study was unable to answer the question of what causes this gender difference, and the researchers believe that more research in this area is required.
The young respondents were also asked about bullyings, such as whether they had been physically exposed to blows and kicks, teased or excluded, subjected to cyberbullying (abusive texting or other electronic or web bullying), or bullied by an adult at school in the previous year.
Bullying was linked to an increased risk of depressive symptoms in every study. This link was still evident six years later, particularly in overweight boys. The researchers believe that these findings suggest a gender difference in how BMI and bullying interact to drive the development of future depressive symptoms.
“One key conclusion and take-home message from our study is that bullying can affect mental illness for a long time, which makes anti-bullying measures in schools extremely important,” Kanders says.
Facts about the study
This research is a sub-project of the larger SALVe (Survey of Adolescent Life in Vestmanland) project. In SALVe, teenagers born in 1997 and 1999 and living in Västmanland County (west of Uppsala) were asked to answer questions about various ailments, well-being, sleep, computer habits, gaming, school enjoyment, and other aspects of their lives in 2012. The goal is to follow this cohort for 20 years to learn how genetics and the environment affect mental and physical health.
On the first occasion, in 2012, 1,729 adolescents (962 girls and 767 boys) responded to the researchers’ questions in this sub-project. There were 1,481 respondents in 2015, and 1,111 in 2018. This decrease in numbers overtime was due to drop-out, with slightly more boys than girls dropping out of the study.
The adolescents were divided into groups based on their BMI and the prevalence of depressive symptoms. Every response to a question about the extent of their bullying was assigned a point value ranging from 0 to 3. The researchers then compared the total scores of the various groups; they did not investigate the results at the individual level.