Adolescents With Bipolar Disorder Not More Likely to be Overweight or Obese

Kathleen R. Merikangas, Ph.D. - Brain & Behavior Research Expert on bipolar disorder
Kathleen R. Merikangas, Ph.D.

The prevalence of excess weight and obesity is similar among adolescents with and without bipolar disorder, according to a new analysis of nationally collected survey data.

However, adolescents with bipolar disorder who are either overweight or obese are more likely than teens with bipolar illness whose weight is normal to have attempted suicide, experienced physical or sexual abuse, and have the eating disorder bulimia. Overweight or obese teens with bipolar disorder were also more likely to see a health professional about their depression, and to be hospitalized for depression.

The study was published December 2016 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The research team was led by University of Toronto psychiatrist Benjamin I. Goldstein, M.D., Ph.D., a 2007 NARSAD Young Investigator and 2014 Independent Investigator, and included Carlos Blanco, M.D., Ph.D. of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a 1999 and 2001 Young Investigator.  Senior team member was Scientific Council member Kathleen R. Merikangas, Ph.D. of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Overweight, obesity not more prevalent among teens with bipolar disorder, despite being more likely in BP adults. Tweet >

Dr. Goldstein and his colleagues decided to look more closely at the prevalence of excess weight and obesity among adolescents with bipolar disorder because these conditions are common among adults with bipolar disorder. The results of the new study may indicate that the association between bipolar disorder and being overweight or obese grows stronger over time, possibly as a result of mood symptoms such as sleep disturbance and physical processes such as excessive inflammation that are common in people with bipolar disorder.

“Studies are warranted,” the researchers write, “to determine whether early intervention of overweight/ obesity in bipolar disorder might optimize physical and mental health.”

The participants in the study were 13 to 17 years old who had participated in a national, face-to-face survey from 2001 through 2004. The final analysis included 295 adolescents diagnosed with bipolar disorder types I or II, 1,112 adolescents with major depressive disorder, and 8,716 teens with no diagnosed mood disorders.

TAKEAWAY: There is a similar prevalence of obesity and overweight among adolescents with and without bipolar disorder, despite those conditions being more common among adults with the disorder.