Obesity and mental health: Are the two related?

Obesity and mental health

According to the WHO, people are under the grip of the global obesity epidemic. By 2020, it will be the most lethal factor threatening human health. But does obesity lead to mental disorder or is it the other way round?  The relation between obesity and mental health has been established by important research work by eminent experts.

Several physical and mental health disorders have their roots in being overweight. Among these, depression is a common mental disorder. People struck by the social stigma of being obese become elements of ridicule among friends and relatives. This hurts and the victim with poor self image lands in a cocoon of depression.

On the other hand, depressed people lose interest in life. They do not exercise and take to binge eating, gradually turning obese. If an unhealthy lifestyle leads to obesity and depression, a little deliberation to reverse the wrong lifestyle habits can attend both the issues.

The alarming link between obesity and mental health:

Obesity is a consequence of your lifestyle as much as it may be embedded in your genetics. It can be a result of varying combination factors – external as well as those inherent in you. Whatever be the reason, it is identified as a potent risk factor destabilizing your mental fiber.

BMI over 35 makes you vulnerable to clinical depression:


At the University of Wisconsin Madison, David A Kats, MD and his fellow researchers inferred that overweight people are far more prone to depression than people with normal body weight.

Upon surveying quality of life in a sample of 2931 patients suffering from obesity and other health disorders, obese people seemed most vulnerable. Clinical depression was an unavoidable threat to people with BMI beyond 35!

Obesity rate among mentally disordered people is higher:

A study conducted by the Arizona Department of Health Services concluded that mentally unstable people left the world 25 years earlier than normal ones. A further survey by Maryland clinic on random sampling of patients hit by psychiatric disorder revealed a correlation with obesity. Body Mass Index (BMI) of the sample under the survey almost doubled that of the general population.

WHO reports support the obesity and mental health relation:

mental illness

The link between obesity and mental health is reinforced by observations of the World Health Organization. It holds that patients with a record of attention deficit syndrome or hyperactivity disorder stand a greater probability of putting on unwanted pounds. In a nutshell, both obesity and mental illness move in a linear relationship. If one sets in, it increases the chance of occurrence of the other.

Obesity impacts lifespan:

Furthermore, research work carried out by the Texas Health Science Centre and by the United Kingdom’s National Obesity Observatory corroborates that obese people are far more likely to get depressed. The bridge linking the two conditions, as already discussed, is low self-esteem.

It builds up a negative conviction in your core that your obesity has made you incompetent. You stick out as an ugly and distinctly identifiable entity in a crowd. Obesity and the resulting mental illness and obviously the sequence impacting a person in reverse order cut the lifespan. The trend is scary and can be one of the deadly combinations putting untimely death rates on the rise.

Gender, age and race deciding on the relation between obesity and mental health:


enhanced body weight and depression is seemingly stronger in women than in men

A correlation between enhanced body weight and depression is seemingly stronger in women than in men. A survey in South Africa completed by Dr. Van Der Merwe and the team found that obesity leading to mental depression is more pronounced in young women. A logical explanation may be that the fairer sex puts more emphasis on personal looks in which staying slim is a prime criterion.

Men, on the other hand, are traditionally more valued by achievements, power and wealth accumulation. Looks come as an added bonus for them. Hence, it is natural that a fat female starts hating her looks that turns into psychiatric disorders.


Youth is the peak phase in your life when you become conscious of your appearance. You want to impress others by your well-defined figure. If you are obese, you are hurt most, your castle falls apart. Your unwanted flab is a reason for rejection by the fairer sex a reason strong enough to put you to the gloom of depression.

On the other hand, an obese child doesn’t bother about looks as consciousness about personal looks is yet to bloom. An obese old man cares a fig about all those layers of flab. He has passed his prime, how he looks doesn’t normally set a flame afresh at this stage, triggering a desire for grooming.

Race and culture:

female folks from African nations weren't affected by being overweight

The relationship between obesity and mental illness is often determined by racial and cultural elements. A survey carried out by researchers at the University College, London turned aware that female folks from African nations weren’t affected by being overweight.

For comparison, a white girl can slip into a fit of depression for being obese that makes her look socially embarrassing. It is a matter of culture whether being obese is a social disgrace or a trivial matter touching no one.

Do medications for psychiatric treatment contribute to obesity or something else is the culprit?

According to studies conducted by L H Johnson and R P Srivastava, eminent scientists on molecular spectrograph, suggest that psychiatric drugs add to your obesity. It further aggravates mental issues in the patient. The selection of the type of drug is the underlying cause, but then all these play a role in weight increase to some extent.

But according to Taylor and colleagues, establishing a relationship between mental illness drugs and obesity is far too a simplified picture and an incomplete one as well. The real cause lies elsewhere and it is a combination of factors putting all blame on medication would be unfair.

Mental issues like depression and attention deficit syndrome set you up for impulsive eating. It is not that you eat because you are hungry, it is a sort of sight of anything and everything coaxes you to eat. You are on an eating binge known as ‘ compulsive eating’ where healthy diet is the first casualty. You make wrong choices. The second important factor is the release of the stress hormone Cortisol. It contributes to accumulation of those extra pounds around your midriff!

Obesity and damaged mental health, a combined medical plague:

Obesity and damaged mental health

Back in 2012, an important medical conference named Call to Action was held taking the limelight on Obesity and Mental health. The following areas merited highlights requiring some serious thoughts:

  • People down with both mental illness and obesity were castigated and thought of as social refuse. Their existence was prejudiced against aggravating the already distressful physical and mental state.
  • People suffering from psychiatric issues stood 3 times a fair chance of turning overweight. Diabetes and coronary disorders added to the string of maladies.
  • Obesity can corrode your mental health and prolonged suffering may worsen the quality of whatever little span of life left with you.

Opinions and interpretations announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention further state that these health disorders have two chief domains, mental and physical. Databases reveal that physical disorders, namely obesity, rates for people with mental disorders are 58 % more than adults with perfect mental conditions.

Statistics establishing an effect of obesity on mental health:

Here we go taking numbers for the USA showing the relationship between mental disability and obesity. A state by state statistical account reveals the following tabulation. It is a both significant and insightful portrayal of the link between obesity and mental illness:

STATE                 OBESITY %     DISABILITY %

Arkansas                   35.9                 31.3

West Virginia            35.7                 31.3

Mississippi                35.5                 30.7

Louisiana                   34.9                 29.3

Colorado                    21.3                16.9

District of Columbia 21.7                21.6

Hawaii                          22.7               15.8

Massachusetts          23.3               22.5

The statistics establishing effects of obesity on mental health are quite evident from the above set of numbers. Still, grey areas exist in the above tabulation so much that prior to data collection, the sample population was not free from medical intervention. They were diagnosed, treated and some of them were on medication.

When experts struggle to figure out a relation between obesity and mental health, the area that is touched most is depression. Longitudinal in-depth survey centering on depression shows the impact travels both ways.

Extremely overweight people are susceptible to develop 55 % heightened risk of depression over time. On the other hand, people already suffering from depression ran a 58 % increased risk of going obese. In a study it was found:

  • Among 50 % of women and 41 % of men, obesity was more pronounced with a severe mental disruption.
  • For a comparison regarding people with normal mental health, the number for women is 27 % and for men 20 %.

More insight into obesity and mental health equation:

teen depression and anxiety

A Chicago-based licensed clinical social worker Lisa M Schab, MSW, LCSW has contributed writings on teen depression and anxiety. She has some valuable observations in her area of interest involving the link between obesity and emotional health. She holds that when you are affected by depression, your appetite behaves in an erratic pattern.

Instead of being dictated by your metabolism and physical activity much of your hunger is psychological. It is a nervous gesture of an inward turmoil making you morose and disrupted mentally.  Your appetite may increase or decrease in response to emotional unrest. But in most cases, the appetite elevates, leading to a higher intake of food and leading to obvious obesity.

Depression also leads to a reduction in physical activity which invites obesity. When you are depressed, you lose the purpose of survival. You don’t find interest in anything and getting involved in a physical workout is seemingly far-fetched.

Ironically, physical exercise is the most potent antidepressant and it is free! Even if you are on an institutional weight reduction regime, your progress will be discouraging if you are a perennial victim of anxiety and depression. A linear relationship exists between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obesity and it is quite powerful. Around 32.6 % of PTSD patients are overweight.

Study reports show that much of the obesity in PTSD owes to eating pattern. Night eating syndrome associated with anomalous circadian cycle sets in where patients tend to over eat at night. Reasonably enough, reluctance to skip breakfast for a full belly night feeding does nothing to put a check on calorie intake. The issue of overeating at night is 3 pronged; lack of sleep, feeding cycle disruption and mood fluctuations leading to being in low spirits strike in a mix to set you in a mental flurry.

Role played by inherited cell traits in obesity-depression kinship:

An experiment was conducted to see if genetics have a say in obesity-depression relationship. The study was focused on DNAs from half a million adults of White European ancestry. All of them were from United Kingdom. Researchers concentrated on 73 genetic dissimilarities which had earlier been related to a bigger measure of BMI.

A few among these were associated with mitigation in the chance of metabolic issues like high blood sugar and cholesterol counts. Instead of reduction what was expected was a rise in cholesterol and blood sugar numbers. It came to light that having a mix of genetic dissimilarities linked to higher BMI was linked with depression too.

Even for samples having genetic variants lowering their chance of metabolic troubles, both linear connections with higher BMI and depression held. The impact of obesity on depression is more of psychological in nature rather than a fall out of metabolic alterations. This stands valid for at least a few cases.

The researchers singled out 48791 people suffering from depression and 291995 people jolly and spirited. The BMI of the entire population was measured and plotted against their DNAs. Depressed people delivered following experiences:

  • They reported visiting psychiatrists and experienced fits of depression spanning 2 weeks at the minimum.
  • Medical records in the UK revealed these people had undergone a diagnosis for recurrent as well as single Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).

The inference drawn from above investigations point towards a single liner -“A higher BMI is very likely to raise the plausibility of depression in an individual “.

Epidemiological investigations:

mood disorder and high BMI

Epidemiological studies report a direct connection between mood disorder and high BMI. A recent data compilation from National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related conditions show extremely obese people display rapid mood swings. Covering a gamut of behavioral attitudes like depression, manic, dysthymia and hypermanic fits, obese people are far more vulnerable to tantrums.

They are almost 1.5 times more likely to be affected by erratic mental outpourings compared to normal body weight individuals. Coming to the element of anxiety, even people who are overweight within reasonable limits fall a prey to anxiety roiling in their core. No surprise how bad must be the obese people affected by worry. In studies carried out in countries like Germany, France, The Netherlands and New Zealand, body weight and mood disorders go hand in hand.

Final thoughts:

Obesity and poor mental health seems like married in heaven. Both these elements can be the cause as well as the effect. Much of the disorder comes from environmental factors, poor lifestyle, traumas, work place experiences and genetic makeup. Since both culprits strike you together, it is prudent if you can work out a solution to eliminate both.

What else than a healthy eating habit and regular workouts can address both the issues at the same time? Clinical treatment by experts could be the last resort if simple home remedies fail to deliver results.

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