Association of Pediatric Obesity Treatment, Including a Dietary Component, With Change in Depression and Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis | Adolescent Medicine | JAMA Pediatrics | JAMA Network
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Original Investigation
September 16, 2019

Association of Pediatric Obesity Treatment, Including a Dietary Component, With Change in Depression and Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Author Affiliations
  • 1The University of Sydney, Children’s Hospital Westmead Clinical School, Westmead, New South Wales, Australia
  • 2Institute of Endocrinology and Diabetes and Weight Management Services, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Westmead, New South Wales, Australia
  • 3School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(11):e192841. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.2841
Key Points

Question  What is the association between pediatric obesity treatment with a dietary component and the change in depression and anxiety?

Findings  In this meta-analysis of 44 pediatric obesity treatment interventions, symptoms of depression and anxiety were reduced at postintervention and follow-up. Interventions of longer duration had a larger reduction in anxiety, and studies including participants with a higher baseline body mass index z score had a larger reduction in symptoms of depression.

Meaning  Pediatric obesity treatment is not associated with an increased risk of depression or anxiety over a 16-month follow-up.


Importance  Children and adolescents with obesity are at higher risk of developing depression and anxiety, and adolescent dieting is a risk factor for the development of depression. Therefore, determining the psychological effect of obesity treatment interventions is important to consider.

Objective  To investigate the association between obesity treatment interventions, with a dietary component, and the change in symptoms of depression and anxiety in children and adolescents with overweight/obesity.

Data Sources  Searches of MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane Library, and PsychINFO were conducted from inception to August 2018. Hand searching of references was conducted to identify missing studies.

Study Selection  Obesity treatment interventions, with a dietary component, conducted in children and adolescents (age <18 years) with overweight/obesity, and validated assessment of depression and/or anxiety were included.

Data Extraction and Synthesis  Data were independently extracted by 1 reviewer and checked for accuracy. Meta-analysis, using a random-effects model, was used to combine outcome data and moderator analysis conducted to identify intervention characteristics that may influence change in depression and anxiety. The meta-analyses were finalized in May 2019.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Change in symptoms of depression and anxiety postintervention and at the latest follow-up.

Results  Of 3078 articles screened, 44 studies met inclusion criteria with a combined sample of 3702 participants (age range, 5.6 to 16.6 years) and intervention duration of 2 weeks to 15 months. Studies reported either no change or a statistically significant reduction in symptoms of depression or anxiety. Meta-analyses of 36 studies found a reduction in depressive symptoms postintervention (standardized mean difference [SE], −0.31 [0.04]; P < .001), maintained at follow-up in 11 studies at 6 to 16 months from baseline (standardized mean difference [SE], −0.25 [0.07]; P < .001). Anxiety was reduced postintervention (10 studies; standardized mean difference [SE], −0.38 [0.10]; P < .001) and at follow-up (4 studies; standardized mean difference [SE], −0.32 [0.15]; P = .03). Longer intervention duration was associated with a greater reduction in anxiety (R2 = 0.82; P < .001). Higher body mass index z score at baseline was associated with a greater reduction in depression (R2 = 0.19; P = .03).

Conclusions and Relevance  Structured, professionally run pediatric obesity treatment is not associated with an increased risk of depression or anxiety and may result in a mild reduction in symptoms. Treatment of weight concerns should be considered within the treatment plan for young people with depression and obesity.