Associations between overweight and mental health problems among adolescents, and the mediating role of victimization

Cornelia Leontine van Vuuren, Gusta G. Wachter, René Veenstra, Judith J. M. Rijnhart, Marcel F. van der Wal, Mai J. M. Chinapaw, Vincent Busch

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Background: Evidence has not been conclusive on whether adolescent overweight is associated with mental health, possibly caused by indirect, yet untested associations. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the association between overweight or obesity and mental health problems among adolescents, and to determine whether victimization plays a mediating role in these associations. Methods: Self-reported data on mental health and victimization and objectively measured Body Mass Index data were used, using three cohorts (2010-2011 until 2012-2013) and an interval between the measurement waves of two years later. We performed a multi-level mediation analysis with a two-level structure to incorporate the clustering of the measurements within individuals. The study population consisted of 13,740 secondary school students, 13-14 years old at the first measurement moment, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Results: Compared to their normal-weight peers, adolescents with overweight or obesity reported psychosocial problems and suicidal thoughts more often. Victimization was a significant mediator in the relationship between having overweight, and psychosocial problems (indirect effect OR: 2.3; 95% CI 1.5, 3.7 and direct effect OR: 1.4; 95% CI 1.2, 1.7) or suicidal thoughts (indirect effect OR: 2.1; 95% CI 1.4, 3.2 and direct effect OR: 1.3; 95% CI 1.1, 1.5). The associations between obesity, and psychosocial problems (indirect OR: 6.2; 95% CI 2.8, 14.7 and direct effect OR: 1.4; 95% CI 1.0, 2.0), or suicidal thoughts (indirect OR: 4.5; 95% CI 2.3, 9.1 and direct effect OR: 1.5; 95% CI 1.1, 2.0) were even stronger. Conclusions: Overweight and obesity were significantly associated with mental health problems in adolescents, and victimization played a mediating role in this association. Victimization and mental health should be integrated into prevention programs that address healthy weight development. Moreover, overweight should be given more attention in programs to prevent victimization and promote adolescent mental health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number612
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Bullying victimization
  • Mental health problems
  • Obesity
  • Overweight
  • Youth

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