Recent studies both in the U.S. and other countries show an alarming link between obesity and depression. Obesity and mental health effects, specifically depression, are associated with many health risks, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and limitations on the ability to function in normal day-to-day activities. Not only does the research suggest higher rates of obesity in people with depression, but the converse is also true: People who are obese have a greater risk of depression.
Obesity and Depression: the Psychological Link
Being overweight or obese, and even the perception of being overweight, increases psychological distress in people. In both the United States and Europe, appearing as the socially defined version of “thin” is considered the ideal body image. Social acceptance and cultural factors play a role in the link between depression and obesity.
Being obese may increase dissatisfaction with body image and decrease self-esteem, both of which are risk factors for depression. These factors increase stress and anxiety. Eating disorders and disturbed eating patterns are also known to increase the risk of depression. In addition, the physical pain individuals suffer as a direct consequence of being obese adds to the risk of depression.
The Genetic Link Between Depression and Weight Gain
Research recently published in the International Journal of Epidemiology suggests that the psychological effects of obesity—not other obesity-associated illnesses such as diabetes—cause depression. To show this, the researchers used a genetic approach. The psychological aspect of being obese was separated from the impact of obesity-related health issues by using genes that predispose certain individuals to a higher body mass index (BMI), but a lower risk of diseases like diabetes.
The findings suggested that these genes were as strongly associated with the risk of developing depression as they were with a higher BMI and diabetes. This genetic component suggests that being overweight causes depression, whether the individual has obesity-related health problems or not, especially in women. Being overweight not only increases the risk of chronic diseases, but can also lead to depression.
Can Depression Cause Weight Gain and Vice Versa?
According to the Centers for Disease Control:
- Research shows 43 percent of adults with depression being studied were obese.
- Adults suffering from depression are also more prone to obesity than adults without depression.
- As the severity of depressive symptoms increases in adults, the proportion of adults with obesity rises as well.
- In all age groups, women suffering from depression are more likely to be obese than women without depression.
- Race and ethnicity have an impact on the relationship between obesity and depression among women. Obesity rates are higher for white women of non-Hispanic ethnicity with depression compared with white women of non-Hispanic ethnicity without depression.
- Obesity was present in fifty-five percent of adults with moderate to severe depressive symptoms who were also taking antidepressant medication.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA):
- The overall association between obesity and depression is stronger among Americans; however, the mean adult BMI is higher in the United States compared with different European countries, which may account for this difference. The exact cause is unknown.
- Being overweight is associated with depression in persons 20 years or older, but not in younger individuals.
- A clinical interview is key to making the association between depression and obesity. The overall association is shown to be stronger when depression is assessed with a diagnostic clinical interview by a medical professional rather than when individuals provide a self-reported list of symptoms.
- When persons experiencing depression are exposed to depression for a longer period (≥10 years), the risk of obesity increases. Studies showed obese persons had a 55 percent increased risk of developing depression over time, whereas individuals with depression experienced a 58 percent increased risk of developing obesity.
- The association between depression and obesity is stronger than the association between depression and being overweight.
- Time may play another role in the association between depression and obesity between men and women. Initial short-term research effects show the association only in women. However, when long-term data is examined, a reciprocal association between obesity and depression is found in both men and women.
Expert Help for Depression and Obesity
Seeking medical help as early as possible for either or both issues is key for patients. Understanding the relationship between depression and antidepressant usage and obesity is key for clinicians, as it may help them form the best treatment and prevention strategies for both conditions.
Time is of the essence in treatment and prevention for both patients and clinicians. The link between depression and obesity is reinforced by duration. The longer obesity or depression is experienced, the greater the risk of the developing the other. Clinicians of depressed patients must monitor them closely, as weight gain is shown to be a later consequence of depression. For the overweight or obese patients, mood must be closely monitored.
Awareness of this link by both patient and clinician can lead to prevention, early detection, and treatment for those who have already developed obesity and depression. For at risk patients, being cognizant and vigilant about medical follow-up care could ultimately reduce the burden of both conditions. Whether the clinician or the patient, the best strategy is speaking up and dealing with these conditions as early as possible.
If you are obese and ready for a change, request an appointment at Advanced Laparoscopic Associates. We can get you back on the road to health through many conservative and surgical treatments, including medically monitored weight loss and bariatric surgery.