A recent study found that women who have a drinking problem at the age of 24 were at a four times greater risk of obesity at age 27, and that obesity at age 27 has increased more than twice the risk of depression at age 30.
It seems that excessive alcohol drinking, obesity and depression go hand in hand for many women, according to the first study to examine how these three closely related in young people.
Dr. Carolyn McCarthy, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and her colleagues found that almost all the men and women who participated in the study suffered from at least one problem between the ages of 21 and 30.
“This is huge,” McCarty said, and is very likely to only be “the tip of the iceberg,” because she and her colleagues used rather stringent definitions of alcohol abuse, depression and obesity in their study.
Young men and women in this study were under observation of this study since 1985, when they were in fifth grade. McCarty and her team looked at data from interviews conducted when the study participants were 24, 27 and 30, in order to understand the interrelationships among depression, obesity and alcohol consumption.
At the age of 21, 8% of women and 12% of men had at least two of the three problems. With time, the number of women suffering from more than one problem increased, but the number of men suffering from more than one problem decreased.
In men, the only finding of the researchers was that men who were obese at the age 27 were less depressed at age 30. However, women who were depressed at age 27 were at a three times higher risk to meet the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence at age 30.
Women who had alcohol use problems at 24 were four times more likely to be obese at nearly 27, while obese at age 27 more than doubled the risk of depression at age 30.
It was also found that the likelihood of depression and obesity was higher in both sexes among those with lower income.
Tendency for compulsive over-thinking about negative events may be one of the traits that links alcohol abuse, obesity and depression, McCarty said in an interview.
Dr. Susan Nolan, a psychologist at Yale University, calls the three problems the “toxic triangle” of “eating, drinking, and over-thinking”. The researcher added and showed that women and men running past events over and over in their minds are more depressed and more likely to drink or binge eat to cope with emotional problems.
There are interventions which target all three legs of this toxic triangle, McCarty said, including physical exercise, mindfulness training, and stress management. Methods for treating obesity, depression and excessive alcohol use problems – are characterized by problems with the “reward system” of the brain – should also help people find alternative ways for rewarding themselves instead of with food or alcohol, she added.