Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Symptoms of depression and anxiety, and change in body mass index from adolescence to adulthood: results from a British birth cohort

D. Gaysinaa1 c1, M. Hotopfa2, M. Richardsa1, I. Colmana3, D. Kuha1 and R. Hardya1

a1 MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, University College London, London, UK

a2 King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK

a3 School of Public Health, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada


Background Depression and anxiety have been shown to be associated with obesity and underweight, but little is known about how the relationship varies across the life course, from adolescence through adulthood. We aimed to investigate the association between adolescent- and adult-onset affective symptoms and body mass index (BMI) change from age 15 to 53 years.

Method We used data from a British birth cohort born in 1946 and followed up ever since. The relationship between affective symptom profiles, distinguishing adolescent-onset and adult-onset symptoms, and BMI change from adolescence to age 53 years was investigated using multilevel models.

Results Women with adolescent-onset symptoms had lower mean BMI at age 15 years, faster rates of increase across adulthood, and higher BMI at age 53 years than those with no symptoms. Men with adolescent-onset symptoms had lower BMI at all ages from 15 to 53 years. The BMI trajectories of men and women with adult-onset symptoms did not differ from those with absence of symptoms at all ages.

Conclusions The relationship between affective symptoms and change in BMI varies by sex and age at onset of symptoms. Adolescence may be an important period for the development of the association between affective symptoms and weight gain in girls. Intervention to prevent increases in BMI across adult life in women with adolescent-onset symptoms, even if they are not overweight at this age, should be considered.

(Received October 27 2009)

(Revised February 02 2010)

(Accepted February 02 2010)

(Online publication March 18 2010)


c1 Address for correspondence: D. Gaysina, Ph.D., MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, 33 Bedford Place, London WC1B 5JU, UK. (Email:


† These authors contributed equally to this work.