The Relationship Between Obesity and Depression

Photo: April 1, 2009. REUTERS/Simon Newman

The prevalence of obesity and depression in the UK is on the rise. In recent years, statistics show that obesity rates have increased from 15-26% with more than 58% of women and 65% of men overweight or obese.

Interestingly, the rate of mental health problems like depression has also continued to rise over recent years. Research suggests that one in four people will suffer from some form of mental health problem every year.

Could there be a link between the rates of obesity and depression?

WHO defines obesity for adults as having a BMI greater than or equal to 30. Depression (as described by the American Psychiatric Association) is a common and serious medical illness that has a negative effect on how you feel,  and the way you think and how you act.

Any kind of relationship between obesity and a mental health disorder is complex due to the amount of contributing factors. There are a number of key risk factors that will influence the chances of an individual suffering from obesity and mental illness including age, gender, the level of obesity and socioeconomic status.

It is also thought that the stigma associated with weight can contribute to an increased vulnerability to depression, low self-esteem, negative body image, disordered eating and lack of exercise.

An investigation into the possible theories linking obesity and depression has varying conclusions. Some studies suggested that obesity could lead to mental health disorders, whereby others proposed those suffering from disorders are more prone to becoming obese.

It is important to bear in mind, there is also evidence that shows no direct link between obesity and depression. Some of the research linking the two only provides a weak correlation e.g. small or selective subject group.

However, such studies do highlight the fact that certain groups of people including females both teenagers and adults are more susceptible to developing a mental illness associated with obesity.

Healthy eating and mental health

The association between healthy eating and reduced risk of diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease is well known. Nevertheless, the importance of good nutrition and mental health is becoming more evident. Research into this area has resulted in some guidelines from the Mental Health Foundation.

The guidelines suggest positive changes to improve diet that may also benefit mental health and help those recovering from mild-moderate depression:

The relationship between obesity and mental health is complicated. This makes it difficult to pinpoint whether one variable causes that other to happen. However, eating a healthy balanced diet and keeping active can help to protect against, and aid in, the recovery of some mental health disorders.

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