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Association between weight status and mental health service utilization in children and adolescents

Carsley S, Pope E, Tu K, Parkin PC, Toulany A, Birken CS. J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2020; 29(4):229-40. Epub 2020 Nov 1.


Background — Previous literature reports inconsistent associations between obesity and mental health. The objective of this study was to determine the association between weight status and mental health service utilization in Ontario children and youth.

Methods — A cross-sectional study of children 0 to 18 years, identified using primary care electronic medical records from the EMRPC database in Ontario, Canada was conducted. Height and weight data were extracted to calculate BMI and linked to administrative data on mental health related outpatient visits, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations. Multivariable logistic regression models were performed.

Results — A total of 50,565 children were included. Overall, 2.2% were underweight, 70.4% had a normal weight, 18.3% were overweight, 6.9% had obesity and 2.2% had severe obesity. 28.2% of all children had at least one mental health visit. Multivariable analyses showed children with overweight, obesity, and severe obesity were 1.11 (95% CI 1.05–1.17), 1.18 (95% CI 1.08–1.27) and 1.39 (95% CI 1.22–1.59) times more likely to have an outpatient mental health visit compared to children with normal weight.

Conclusion — Increased weight status was associated with mental health related outpatient visits and emergency department visits. This study may inform policy makers’ planning of mental health resources for children with obesity and severe obesity.

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