WEDNESDAY, Dec. 3, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- There may be a link between depression and abdominal obesity in older people, according to researchers in Holland who studied almost 2,100 adults in their seventies.
The participants were screened for depression at the start of the study (four percent had depression) and their levels of abdominal and overall body fat were recorded and then checked again five years later.
After the researchers adjusted for socio-demographic and other factors associated with weight change, they concluded that depression was associated with an increase in abdominal fat and visceral fat (fat between the internal organs).
"Such an association was not found for an increase in overall obesity and also appeared to be independent of changes in overall obesity, suggesting that depressive symptoms are rather specifically associated with fat gain in the visceral region," wrote Nicole Vogelzangs, of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, and colleagues.
There are a number of ways that depression may increase abdominal fat, the researchers said. Chronic stress and depression may activate certain brain areas, resulting in increased levels of the hormone cortisol, which promotes accumulation of visceral fat. Or it may be that people with depression have unhealthy behaviors, such as a poor diet, that interact with other physiological factors and boost levels of abdominal fat, the study authors said.
"Our longitudinal results suggest that clinically relevant depressive symptoms give rise to an increase in abdominal obesity, in particular visceral fat, which seems to be stronger than and independent of overall obesity," the researchers concluded.
"This could also help explain why depression is often followed by diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Future research should further disentangle these mechanisms because this will yield important information for prevention or treatment of depression-related health consequences."
The study was published in the December issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.
About 10 percent to 15 percent of older adults have depression, the researchers said.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about depression.