Study links teenage depression and obesity to low family income, educationReleased on October 30, 2003
Contact: Contact: Cristin Carr (781) 736-4203
Almost one third of depression and obesity among U.S. teenagers can be attributed to low family income or having parents with low educational levels, according to a national study conducted by Brandeis researcher Elizabeth Goodman and colleagues from Cincinnati Children's Medical Center.
Published in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the research revealed that the impact of lower parental education was stronger than that of income for both depression and obesity.
"Socioeconomic status accounts for a large proportion of the disease burden within the whole population," said Goodman, professor at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management. "To understand youth health and behaviors, the context in which youth live must be considered."
The study, which surveyed more than 15,000 adolescents as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, found that 40 percent of depression and 39 percent of obesity is attributable to lower parental education.
"Education's effect may relate more to differences in coping styles and other interpersonal skills, whereas income's effect may be strongly associated with material goods and services," said Goodman.
The researchers used 1994 household income data and parents' educational attainment from the families of surveyed adolescents. Goodman's group applied a standard measure of depression and calculated body mass index from the teenager's height and weight to determine obesity.
Unlike most studies, the research focused on population-level effects -- wider social economic and cultural determinants that may be associated with trends in obesity. These are crucial components in understanding what causes obesity among the U.S. adolescent population as a whole. Previous research tended to focus on how factors related to the risk of an individual being depressed or obese rather than looking across the entire population.
"Obesity and depression represent critical public health problems for today's youth because both are highly prevalent chronic diseases that track into adulthood," said Goodman.
The study was supported in part by a grant from the William T. Grant Foundation, and based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add-Health).
About The Heller School for Social Policy and Management
Since its founding as Brandeis University's first professional school in 1959, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management has been committed to the development and transmission of knowledge in the fields of social policy and health and human service management. Heller offers a Ph.D. in social policy, a M.B.A. for mission-driven organizations, and a M.A. in Sustainable International Development.
Heller's nationally renowned research centers are pioneers in a variety of policy areas, including health; mental health; substance abuse; children, youth, and families; aging; international and community development; disabilities; hunger and poverty; work and inequality. Heller continues to be ranked among the top ten for schools of social policy and 12th in health policy and management by US News and World Report magazine. For more information about The Heller School for Social Policy and Management visit
"Information on various types of depression, causes, symptoms, available treatments, and how to get help. Also includes depression poems and quotes."
submitted by An Alam