Depressive Symptoms During Adolescence Predict Adulthood Obesity Among Black Females

  • Shervin Assari
  • Cleopatra Howard Caldwell
  • Marc A. Zimmerman



This study aimed to investigate gender differences in the association between baseline depressive symptoms and subsequent changes in obesity in a sample of urban Black youth in the USA.


The current study followed 681 Black youth (335 male and 346 female) for up to 18 years from 1994 to 2012. All youth were selected from an economically disadvantaged urban area in MI, USA. The main independent variable was baseline depressive symptoms measured in 1994. The main outcome was change in body mass index (BMI) from 1999 to 2012, calculated based on self-reported height and weight. Scio-demographics (age, number of parents in the household, and parental employment) were covariates. Gender was the focal moderator. We used linear regressions to test the predictive role of baseline depressive symptoms on change in BMI (from 1999 to 2012) in the pooled sample, and also based on gender.


Among Black females, but not Black males, baseline depressive symptoms predicted the BMI change from 1999 to 2012. The association remained significant for Black females after controlling for covariates.


High depressive symptoms at baseline better predict BMI change over the next decade for female than male Black youth. As a result, detection and reduction of depressive symptoms may be a vital element of obesity prevention programs for Black females. Policies and programs that address determinants of psychological distress as a strategy to prevent obesity among female Black youth in disadvantaged neighborhoods may be especially useful.


Obesity Depressive symptoms Blacks Ethnic Groups Adolescents African Americans Gender 


Author Contributions

This analysis was designed and performed by Shervin Assari, who also drafted the manuscript. Marc Zimmerman designed the main study, acquired the data, and contributed to all drafts of this manuscript. Cleopatra Caldwell was a coinvestigator of the main cohort and contributed to the drafts of the current paper. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

Funding Information

This study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (grant number DA07484) to Marc Zimmerman (the principle investigator). Shervin Assari receives financial supported from the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund and the Richard Tam Foundation at the University of Michigan Depression Center. Shervin Assari is also supported by the Michigan Nutrition Research Obesity Center (MNORC; grant number: P30 DK089503) funded by the National Institute for Health (NIH).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all parents included in the study. Participants signed assent.

Ethical Approval

All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© W. Montague Cobb-NMA Health Institute 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, School of MedicineUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture and Health, School of Public HealthUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public HealthUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Prevention Research Center, School of Public HealthUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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