Half the women, drawn from community health centers in North Carolina, were enrolled in a weight management program that included counseling, education, health-goal setting and self-monitoring. That program, called the Shape Program, included no mention of mood. The other women received the usual care, which included newsletters covering various health issues and a brochure on healthy weights.
The women were ages 25 to 44, with a body mass index - a measure of weight compared with height - that put them in the overweight to obese category. Eight percent of them had less than a college degree, and most were employed, though nearly three-quarters reported an annual income below $30,000.
After a year, 62 percent of the women in the weight-gain prevention program were at or below their beginning weight, compared with 45 percent of the group of women who got the usual care. The results were similar at 18 months. At that point, 14 of the women in the usual care group and nine in the intervention group reported taking a depression medication.
Depression was assessed using a standard questionnaire, and the women’s heights and weights were taken by trained staff.
Other studies have shown that African-American women have a more difficult time losing weight than women in other groups; it’s not clear why, the researchers said. But Steinberg said differences in norms about weight and physical activity, as well as other stresses, may be partly at the heart of it.
“These higher occurrences may also have an impact on psychosocial outcomes such as depression,” Steinberg said. “So interventions that focus on behavioral weight control may present a useful opportunity to address both obesity and depression.”