Depressive symptoms and adolescent eating and health behaviors: A multifaceted view in a population-based sample

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Background. Previous research has shown significant associations between depression and substance use and eating disordered behaviors. However, no research to date has described associations between depressive symptoms and nutritional intake or physical activity among adolescents in a nonclinical, population-based sample. Methods. Classroom surveys were completed by 4,734 ethnically diverse, middle- and high school students. Based on their depressive symptom scores, males and females were categorized with low-, moderate-, or high-depressive symptom status. Linear models were used to examine eating and health behavior variables by depressive symptom groups. Results. Depressive symptoms were positively associated with health-compromising attitudes such as perceived barriers to healthy eating and weight concerns, and health-compromising behaviors such as unhealthy weight-control behaviors and substance use, including caffeine. Depressive symptoms were negatively associated with health-promoting behaviors such as eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, most associations between depressive symptoms and dietary micronutrients were not statistically significant. Health-promoting moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was negatively associated with depressive symptoms among males. Conclusions. Adolescents who report depressive symptoms are at risk for other health-compromising attitudes and behaviors and are also less likely to engage in health-promoting behaviors. Depressive symptoms may be an underlying trait in the expression of health behaviors among adolescents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)865-875
Number of pages11
JournalPreventive medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by Grant MCJ-270834 (D. Neumark-Sztainer, principal investigator) from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (Title V, Social Security Act), Health Resources and Service Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


  • Depressive symptoms
  • Disordered eating
  • Nutrition
  • Physical activity
  • Substance use


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