Our Little Girls are Overweight and Depressed

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First, the good news: University and hospital researchers in California have developed a new health-improvement program shown to have positive effects on cholesterol levels, diabetes risk and depression symptoms in obese African-American girls.


That statement contains some pretty bad news: Little black girls are experiencing depression. Why?

Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital recruited 261 8- to 10-year-old girls from Oakland, all of whom self-reported as African-Americans and were obese according to their body mass index (BMI). They were randomly divided into two groups: 134 girls received daily dance classes at city community centers and in-home education programs on reducing television time; the other 127 girls received a mailed health education program.

The study’s goal was to reduce BMI and obesity among the girls, but that goal was not met. However, there were promising results regarding cholesterol levels – at the start of the study, one in five of the girls had high cholesterol – diabetes and depression. The findings were published in the November issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

I understand that overweight kids have cholesterol and diabetes issues and younger and younger ages. That’s scary enough. I somehow missed the whole depression thing, thinking symptoms really wouldn’t start to present in girls that young. Unfortunately, the study results focused more on the lack of weight loss than the mental-health portion. This is from the press release:

Although researchers had hoped to see a change in body mass index across the entire study population from the program — culturally-tailored dance classes and screen time reduction for African-American girls in low-income neighborhoods of Oakland, Calif. — they did find statistically significant benefits to weight reduction among two high-risk subgroups of children: girls from single-parent households and those who watched a lot of TV. They also noted that the large-scale, randomized trial produced other important benefits: It lowered participants’ total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, reduced the onset of high insulin levels and reduced symptoms of depression.

Researchers said that those results are important signs of progress in the efforts to design health-promotion and disease-prevention campaigns for populations that are most plagued by obesity and also the most difficult to reach. And they added that the lack of better weight loss results underscore the challenges these programs face.

“Although we had obstacles we had to overcome, we had tremendous successes as well,” said Thomas Robinson, MD, professor of pediatrics and of medicine and the primary author of the new research. He noted that almost 85 percent of families stayed in the study at least two years. “It’s important that people not be discouraged from doing research in areas that have the greatest need, because that’s where we really need answers to help the populations that are at highest risk.”

The only nod to the possible source of depressive symptoms was that there was violent crime in the areas where the dance classes were being held, indicating these girls came from violent-prone areas.

I wish more research were conducted on the correlation between obesity and depression, because I’m certain there’s a strong one. And not just among AAs.


Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.  ~  James Baldwin

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Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.