Latinx middle schoolers mental health affects sleep, obesity, and habits

Heart disease and stroke risk linked to adolescent depression.


A new study from George Washington University shows that Latinx children who felt sad or worried in middle school are likelier to have trouble sleeping, gain too much weight, and be inactive in high school. This could lead to serious health problems like obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes when they grow up.

Kathleen M. Roche, a professor of prevention and community health at the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health, said, “Our study suggests signs of depression or anxiety in Latinx kids can set up a cycle that leads to weight gain, an unhealthy diet, and inactivity by the high school years. If such problems are not addressed early, they can set the stage for adult diseases like heart disease and stroke.”

Latinx high school students are 50% more likely to become higher weight and have a higher chance of getting diabetes, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Researchers found that mental health problems can lead to bad habits like eating unhealthy foods and not being active.

Roche and her team examined data from 547 Latinx middle school students in suburban Atlanta. Most of the students were U.S. citizens and were around 13 years old when the first survey was done and about 17 in the most recent one.

Researchers asked students about their eating habits, sleep, and physical activity. They also asked them how they felt mentally, whether sad or anxious.

They found that even after considering other factors, students with more sadness, anxiety, and other mental issues were likelier to sit around a lot, have trouble sleeping, eat unhealthy food, and be higher weight just four years later. These things can increase the risk of heart problems when they grow up.

This study shows that teenagers, even those in middle school, can have mental health problems that last into high school and might cause health issues like obesity. But there’s hope – getting help for mental health problems early might stop them from overeating and get them involved in sports or other activities.

Roche said, “Just telling a kid to get out and move probably isn’t going to motivate a teen who is sad or distressed. Depression and anxiety make it much harder to move off the couch.”

Previous studies by Roche found that when Latinx young people had a family member deported or detained by U.S. immigration policies, they were more likely to have thoughts of hurting themselves, start drinking alcohol early, and do risky things. Also, in 2022, her team discovered that Latinx teens who had to take care of kids during the COVID-19 pandemic felt more sad and anxious and acted out more.

This new study adds to that by showing that mental health issues in middle school can affect their physical health even in high school.

This research tells us that Latinx teens need more help for their mental health. Parents, teachers, and doctors should look for signs of mental health problems and get them treatment to stay active and healthy.

This study reveals that Latinx middle school students who experience mental health issues may face a heightened risk of sleep problems, obesity, and adopting unhealthy behaviors during high school. Addressing mental health concerns early and providing necessary support can mitigate these risks and promote better overall health outcomes for Latinx adolescents.

Journal Reference:

  1. Kathleen M. Roche et al., Mental Health During Early Adolescence and Later Cardiometabolic Risk: A Prospective Study of US Latinx Youth. Journal of Adolescent Health.