Being overweight may increase risk of depression, study finds

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Experts say there are several ways that weight impacts mental health

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter explored the connection between obesity and depression. According to their findings, the two conditions are closely linked; being overweight may increase the risk of developing depression, and both physical and social factors can contribute to mental health risks. 

“Obesity and depression are both major global health challenges, and our study provides the most robust evidence to date that higher BMI causes depression,” said researcher Jess O’Loughlin. “Understanding whether physical or social factors are responsible for this relationship can help inform effective strategies to improve mental health and well-being. 

“Our research suggests that being fatter leads to a higher risk of depression, regardless of the role of metabolic health. This suggests that both physical health and social factors, such as social stigma, both play a role in the relationship between obesity and depression.” 

The connection between the mind and body

For the study, the researchers analyzed the genetic data of more than 145,000 Europeans enrolled in the U.K. Biobank to determine which factors related to obesity may impact the risk of depression. After analyzing the participants’ DNA, the team determined that there were metabolic and psychological factors linked to obesity. 

The findings showed that being overweight or obese increased the risk of the participants developing depression, and both physical and social factors contributed to that risk. 

The researchers explained that not all genes associated with obesity increase the risk of other health conditions, like high blood pressure or diabetes. Some consumers with obesity are still metabolically healthy despite having higher BMIs. This leads the team to believe that other physical and social aspects -- like societal expectations and the social stigma associated with obesity -- are what contribute to the heightened risk of depression. 

As these findings further highlight the ways that physical health can impact mental health, the researchers hope that consumers make both aspects of their health a priority. 

“Our research adds to a body of evidence that being overweight causes depression,” said researcher Dr. Francesa Casanova. “Finding ways to support people to lose weight could benefit their mental health as well as their physical health.” 

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