A growing body of research suggests a connection between weight and depression.
While older studies investigating a link between weight and depression found mixed results, a growing body of research suggests a connection.
Where's the connection?
Several studies have found excess weight to be linked with depression symptoms, a history of depression, and other measures of psychological distress (e.g. anxiety).1 Typically, a stronger link has been found in whites, people under the age of 65, and in those with more education and income.2,3 Earlier studies also suggest a stronger link in women compared to men. However, this may be changing. According to 2006 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, the depression-obesity link was found to be the same in both men and in women.4
This connection does not only hold true for adults. There have also been reports of a link between obesity and depression in adolescents.5 Also, new moms with excess weight are more likely to report depression symptoms.6
Which comes first?
While researchers have found a connection, they have not been able determine the direction of the connection. In other words, they have not been able to demonstrate that excess weight causes depression or that depression causes excess weight. Several theories, however, could support either direction.
For example, depression could lead to excess weight because increased appetite, less physical activity7 and weight gain are common symptoms of depression. 8 Also, many drugs used to treat the condition have the side effect of weight gain. Additionally, for those who have an eating disorder, depression may also increase the risk of weight gain through its effect on promoting binge eating.
On other hand, being obese could lead to depression. There's a stigma attached to being obese, which is often accompanied by of negative and hurtful comments.9 This stigma appears to have a larger effect in whites compared to other ethnic groups.4 In addition to a social stigma, physical movement can be limited due to obesity, reducing the ability to participate in pleasurable, rewarding activities. This may also heighten the risk of depression.10 It is also possible that depression and weight may be tied by something else altogether, like being a victim of child abuse or a genetic vulnerability.
This content is reviewed regularly. Last updated September 24, 2009.
A definite connection has been found between depression and excess weight but a lot more research is needed to gain a solid understanding of this complex issue.
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2 Heo M, Pietrobelli A, Fontaine KR, Sirey JA, Faity MS. Depressive mood and obesity in US adults: comparison and moderation by sex, age, and race. Int J Obes 2006;30:513-519.
3 Li ZB, Ho SY, Chan WM, Ho KS, Li MP, Leung GM, Lam TH. Obesity and depressive symptoms in Chinese elderly. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2004;19:68-74.
4 Simon GE, Van Korff MV, Saunders K, Miglioretti DL, Crane PK, Belle GV, Kessler RC. Association between obesity and psychiatric disorders in the US Adult Population. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63:824-830.
5 Richardson LP, Garrison MM, Drangsholt M, Manci L, LaResche L. Associations between depressive symptoms and obesity during puberty. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2006 Jul-Aug;28(4):313-20.
6 La Coursiere DY, Baksh L, Bloebaum L, Varner MW. Maternal Body Mass Index and Self-Reported Postpartum Depressive Symptoms. Matern Child Health. 2006 Aug 8.
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Association between lifestyle factors and mental health measures among community-dwelling older women. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2004;38:940-947.
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