Unlike in men, scientists have found that depression, obesity and alcohol abuse (or dependency) are interrelated conditions among young adult women.
The researchers at University of Washington used data collected when young adults were 24, 27 and 30 years of age, and found that nearly half the sample of 776 young adults tracked during the study met the criteria for one of these conditions at each of these time points.
"The proportion of people with all three of these conditions at any one point is small. For women there is a great deal of overlap between these common emotional and health problems that span early adulthood. Men may develop one of these conditions but they don't tend to lead another one later on," said Carolyn McCarty, the lead author of a new study.
"These conditions are major public health problems. They take a toll on families and community and are not subject to quick fixes. It requires a lot of time, money and energy to treat them," she added.
The study found that women with an alcohol disorder at age 24 were more than three times as likely to be obese when they were 27, and this could be possible because of two possibilities.
"The caloric intake associated with drinking alcohol may increase metabolic processes leading to weight gain. Or there may be an underlying connection to levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, in the reward pathway in the brain because the same pathways reward both food and alcohol intake. It also may be that some people substitute food for alcohol, leading to obesity," she said.
They also found that women who are obese at 27 were more than twice as likely to be depressed when they were 30, and they attributed it to body image.
The researchers discovered that women who are depressed at 27 were at increased risk for alcohol disorders at 30, which, they said, could be because of individuals self-medicating themselves.
The findings also revealed that obesity offers men some protection against later developing depression.
The study also showed that income has a significant effect on obesity at age 24 and those with higher incomes had a lower risk for weight problem.
McCarty said that finding is not surprising since many of the least nutritional items are inexpensive, and low-income areas do not have the same sources of fresh fruits and vegetables that more affluent ones have.
"It costs more to eat well," she said.
McCarty said that the research did not uncover any step-by-step progression from one these disorders to another.
However, she said clinicians treating women with one of these conditions should be aware that patients might develop another disorder.
She believes that intervention programs are needed and can play a key role in reducing the growing public health burden caused by these conditions.