That Oklahoma ranks in the top 10 in both obesity and depression is no surprise to Philip Hyde, a clinical psychologist with the Oklahoma Psychological Center, 1117 N.W. 50th. He’s seen the conditions coexist in clients for years.
“There is no doubt they are joined,” Hyde said. “My guess is it stems from a lot of factors, including some bad habits that we get into fairly early in life. If we don’t come to grips with them or understand them, they are going to lead to all sorts of difficulties later on in life, including what might represent as depression or obesity.”
Numerous recent studies are beginning to confirm the anecdotal observation of health care providers in Oklahoma and across the country: Depression and obesity, often along with other conditions, appear to be windows into the same dark house, one in which a lot of Oklahomans live.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System show Oklahoma ranks sixth in the country in depression, according to a composite of different factors. That study, released through Mental Health America in 2007, states that more than 13 percent of adult Oklahomans experienced severe psychological distress, almost 8 percent of adults have suffered from depression and more than 9 percent of adolescents also had depression. Sufferers averaged more than four lost workdays per year due to these mental health issues, according to the study.
Concurrently, Oklahoma tied Arkansas for eighth in the country in obesity, with 28.1 percent of Oklahomans (and Arkansans) weighing in as obese, according to state data from the Trust for America’s Health. That same study damns Oklahoma as high in diabetes ” a disease connected to obesity ” ranking it sixth in the nation, with 9.7 percent of Oklahomans struggling with the condition.
While these statistics indicate a connection between obesity and depression, the connection is solidified in a recent study published over the summer in Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. That study concluded that whether one becomes obese and then gets depressed, or vice versa, the two conditions have a relationship.
“People who are depressed may be more likely to become obese because of physiological changes in their hormone and immune systems that occur in depression,” that study concludes. “Also, they have more difficulty taking good care of themselves because of symptoms and consequences of depression, such as difficulty adhering to fitness regiments, overeating and having negative thoughts.”
Researcher Evette Ludman’s work, along with fellow colleagues at Seattle’s Group Health Center for Health Studies, also confirmed such findings. A 2006 study at the center found that obese adults could have as high as a 44 percent likelihood of also developing depression. The situation can produce a chicken or egg scenario, she said ” a person may be depressed about being fat, or, being depressed, may become fat due to overeating, drinking and a lack of motivation to exercise. Nevertheless, Ludman said, there is one sure way out.
“Depression is a disorder of motivation,” Ludman said. “One of the things we do with folks is get them moving even before they feel like it. Sometimes you have to have action before motivation ” you can’t just sit around and wait for the motivation to come to you.”
Small goals, Ludman said, are the key to starting an exercise program. A walk around the block might work for starters, followed by more over time. A good friend to take that journey with can also help.
“Having a buddy is particularly powerful when depression is involved. You get it on two fronts. There is the exercise and then there is the social interaction,” she said.
“There is accountability. On the morning you don’t want to go, there’s the friend, saying, ‘Come on, we’re going to do it.’ Walking is one of the best exercises there is. The heavier you are, the more calories you burn when you walk.”
Her suggestions concur with Hyde’s. With so many new walking trails available and others due to be accessible in the coming year, those with weight/depression issues need to get to work. “Ben Fenwick