The world has changed a lot in the past 30 years, leaving no shortage of possible causes for the global obesity problem: more calories, more sugary beverages, less physical activity, poor sleep and so on. Now, according to a paper in the British Medical Journal, there’s a new one: the rising use of antidepressant medications.
The study: Researchers at King’s College in London analyzed an impressive British database containing nearly 300,000 clinical records of adults whose body mass index was measured at least three times. They wanted to see whether they would find a relationship between antidepressant use and the development of obesity. Britain and the United States have similar obesity rates, among the highest in the world. In the United States, antidepressant use has climbed about 65 percent since 1999.
Methods and results: About 53,000 adults in the British database, with an average age of 51½ , had been prescribed antidepressants for the first time during the course of the study. In the next eight years, they were far more likely to gain more than 5 percent of their body weight than those not on antidepressants. This gave individuals taking antidepressants an adjusted weight-gain risk 21 percent higher than those not taking antidepressants. The risk climbed to 50 percent higher for individuals using the antidepressant mirtazapine (Remeron).
The study team concluded, “Widespread utilisation of antidepressants may be contributing to long term increased risk of weight gain.” They nonetheless advised that no one should stop taking antidepressant medications or adjust their dose without a medical consultation. The newly published study uncovered only an association between antidepressants and weight gain. It did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
Next steps: Follow your doctor’s recommendations with regard to antidepressant use, but discuss weight-gain hazards with her or him. Increase your physical activity if you can. Regular exercise is considered a good way to fight depression and may help you maintain a healthy weight as well. “Our observations reinforce the need for active body weight management to accompany antidepressant treatment,” the researchers write.
An earlier version of this story misstated the weight gain risk for individuals taking antidepressants. This version has been corrected.
Amby Burfoot is a freelance writer and editor and a member of the Running Hall of Fame. His most recent book is “Run Forever: Your Complete Guide to Healthy Lifetime Running.”