“Strongest evidence yet” that obesity causes depression, even in the absence of other health problems

Disturbing yet unsurprising results from a recent study provide the “strongest evidence yet” that obesity causes depression, even in the absence of other health problems. These findings were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology and highlight both the physical and mental risks that come with being obese.

Researchers from the University of South Australia and University of Exeter in the U.K. looked at U.K. Biobank data of more than 48,000 people and compared them to a control group of more than 290,000 people born between 1939 and 1971, all of whom provided medical and genetic information.

These were cross-analyzed to hospital data and self reports to determine who had depression.

Elina Hypponen, co-author of the study, took a genomic approach to the research, explaining that the team “separated the psychological component of obesity [or those who had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 and over] from the impact of obesity-related health problems using genes associated with higher BMI, but with lower risk of diseases like diabetes.”

Statistical analyses revealed that obese people had a higher likelihood of suffering from clinical depression. Women were observed to be particularly vulnerable to this mental disease.

At the other end of the BMI spectrum, Hypponen found that very thin men were more prone to depression than either men of normal weight or very thin women.

The cold touch of despair, the hook that rips your heart

This new study provides an answer to the Möbius strip of depression and obesity. For years, health experts have wondered whether excess weight caused depression or if the opposite was true. Surely, there is an emotional impact of obesity. Data prove that obese people feel more self-conscious about their appearance and their physical abilities. They may begin to withdraw from their friends and family and exclude themselves from social activities.

Obese people may also be victims of bullying, causing their feelings of self-worth to decline even further. At the same time, obesity may affect other organ systems, causing aches, shortness of breath, chest pains, and digestive problems — all of which can trigger feelings of despair and powerlessness, all hallmarks of depression.

Nevertheless, the mental disorder seems more likely the effect, rather than cause, of obesity. Recently concluded studies have found that obesity significantly increased the chance of both adults and children having depression later on in life. This was attributed to heightened inflammation in the body. Carrying excess weight, particularly around the abdomen, makes it easier for your organs to become inflamed as it struggles to maintain balance. The inflammation allows free radicals to wreak havoc in the body, making you more vulnerable to all sorts of diseases — including depression. (Related: Both depression and obesity are on the rise – coincidence? These conditions are linked in many ways.)

Obesity and depression tend to feed off each other until patients end up in a vicious, self-destructive circle. Obesity can make a person self-conscious and less willing to socialize, prompting depressive symptoms. These, in turn, make it harder for the patient to engage in physical activities that would address the obesity.

Nutritionists and holistic wellness experts advise taking small steps. Depressed, obese people can begin by simply walking more each day. This includes taking 5- to 10-minute walks around the block. Eliminating or reducing the consumption of processed sugar and high-fat foods is also strongly encouraged.

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