Does Being Overweight Make Depression More Likely, Even if It Doesn’t Negatively Impact Metabolic Health?

Being overweight or obese can increase the risk for several chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and a growing body of evidence suggests it can take toll on mental health as well.

A recent study, published July 16 in Human Molecular Genetics, found that having a higher body mass index (BMI) increased the likelihood of depression, even in the absence of poor metabolic health and increased risk for weight-related diseases, including type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

Obesity and depression have a bidirectional relationship — that is, having obesity does appear to cause depression, and depression does cause obesity, says Roger S. McIntyre, MD, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, who was not involved in the research. “This has been evaluated in both cross-sectional as well as longitudinal studies in both clinics and in the general population; it’s a robust and statistically significant association that goes in both directions,” says Dr. McIntyre.

Obesity is a growing health crisis, both in the United States and around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975; in the United States, it’s estimated that 39.6 percent of adults are considered obese, according to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data.

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