The Checkup: Sunscreen for all; depression and weight gain

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Adapted from The Post's daily health blog.

Sunscreen for all skin tones

People of all skin colors should wear sunscreen and avoid excessive sun exposure to reduce their risk of skin cancer. That advice comes from the American Medical Association, which included recommendations for preventing skin cancer in communities of color among new policies adopted at its annual meeting in Chicago last week.

According to the AMA, the five-year melanoma survival rate is only 58.8 percent among African Americans, compared with 84.8 percent for whites. The incidence of melanoma among Hispanics has risen to rates comparable to that of whites over the past 15 years. But Hispanics and African Americans, who may believe that their skin cancer risk is lower than that of whites, are screened less frequently for the disease.

Under the new policy, the AMA pledges to "support and encourage efforts to increase awareness of skin cancer risks, skin cancer screening, and sun-protective behaviors in communities of color." Those behaviors should include wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, staying out of the sun during peak hours, and getting regular skin examinations.

Depression preceding weight gain

Researchers have long seen a link between depression and overweight, but it's been difficult to pin down which causes which.

In a study in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health, Belinda Needham of the University of Alabama at Birmingham looked at data for more than 4,600 young adults in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study. Needham focused on information collected about participants' body mass index, waist circumference and symptoms of depression at five-year intervals over 20 years.

In short, the study found that people who started out with higher levels of depressive symptoms experienced a faster rate of increase in BMI (for whites only) and waist circumference (for blacks and whites) than did those who reported fewer symptoms of depression. Initial BMI and waist circumference did not influence the rate of change in symptoms of depression over time.

That suggests that depression comes first. But Needham is careful to point out that her study does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship, only a temporal one. She also notes that perhaps there's some circumstance that underlies both depression and obesity. If that were the case, then neither condition could be said to cause the other.

-- Jennifer LaRue Huget

dgb123 wrote: For myself, the depression came first, then the weight gain. There are also issues with certain medications (both antidepressants and others) causing weight gain, which just exacerbates the situation.

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