A Study Found a Link Between Obesity and Depression

In many cases, there's a correlation between obesity and depression. However, not every obese person becomes depressed, nor does every depressed person gain weight. Nevertheless, there are many cases in which the two factors are present and reinforce each other.
A Study Found a Link Between Obesity and Depression
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines obesity as an excess of fat in the body. On the other hand, “overweight” refers to weighing too much, which doesn’t refer specifically to fat. This can have health consequences, and it was found that there’s a link between obesity and depression.

Obesity begins with an imbalance between fat intake and calorie consumption. This balance varies from person to person. The best-known health consequences are an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and some cancers.

In the case of women, obesity can also lead to reproductive disorders – when conceiving, during pregnancy and childbirth itself – and also to menstruation problems. In boys and girls, this issue is related to growth problems, especially in the case of bone development.

Obesity and depression

While physical illnesses pose a high-risk factor for people suffering from obesity, psychological risks are no less dangerous and harmful. In fact, obesity, in many cases, begins its path in people’s lives when there is stress, sadness, depression, or anxiety. In other words, the emotional factor plays a role.

Obesity and depression are directly related. Many depressed people overeat and abandon self-care. This is usually when the increase of fats occurs in their organism.

Other people fall into depression that’s difficult to treat when they see they’ve become obese. This can be either because of the image they see in the mirror or because of the social stigmatization of which they’re victims. This is because society has a negative view of overweight people.

The media show an ideal body that is far from overweight. This produces what is known as social stigma. Stigma can cause serious psychological problems in obese people, such as anxiety disorders, addictions, eating disorders and depression.

A woman measuring her waist
Specialists associate obesity with a social stigma that further contributes to the depressive states of overweight people.

Keep reading: Daily Stress Can Cause Depression

Mind and body together

As we mentioned above, obesity has a variety of origins. While some are genetic, many others have to do with how people feel. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, or stress, so common in today’s society, often lead to overeating and a sedentary lifestyle.

Specialists estimate that about 43% of cases associate obesity and depression. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States – a country that’s heavily impacted by obesity, which cuts across different strata of the population – obese people are 55% more likely to suffer from depression. Therefore, there’s a clear link between obesity and depression.

Depression in women

Women are genetically more at risk of having excess body fat than men. In addition, the cycle of obesity and depression is more common in women than in men. According to the American Psychological Association, in the population of women with obesity, depression had a 37% higher incidence than in men.

The relationship between obesity and suicidal ideation is also more evident in women than in men. Here, once again, we see the burden of social stigma that weighs on obese people, since women are expected – culturally and socially – to take care of their bodies according to the beauty ideal of thinness.

A woman on a computer
Women have a higher prevalence of obesity than men, and also a higher prevalence of depression.

Psychological intervention to address obesity and depression

There’s no evidence that the link between obesity and depression responds to a genetic or biological pattern. Therefore, the most appropriate thing for those who suffer from this condition is to seek psychological help.

Mental health professionals agree that it’s possible to reverse the cycle of obesity and depression with early intervention. To do so, it’s important to take into account that obesity is often related to the symbolic act of eating.

Compulsive food intake may be due to states of anxiety. This is often related to negative psychological experiences, which aren’t recognized and find a means of expression through overeating.

A psychological intervention helps obese people to elaborate their body image and self-esteem more adequately. It also facilitates the change of habits towards a healthier lifestyle, based on the recovery of emotional control.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bartolomé, M. De Domingo, and J. López Guzmán. “La estigmatización social de la obesidad.” Cuadernos de bioética 25.2 (2014): 273-284.
  • Contreras-Valdez, José Alfredo, Laura Hernández-Guzmán, and Miguel-Ángel Freyre. “Insatisfacción corporal, autoestima y depresión en niñas con obesidad.” Revista mexicana de trastornos alimentarios 7.1 (2016): 24-31.
  • Ruiz Domínguez, Claudia, et al. “Diferencias de género en pacientes con obesidad mórbida candidatos a cirugía bariátrica: Influencia de ansiedad, depresión y autoestima.” Investigación y género. Reflexiones desde la investigación para avanzar en igualdad: VII Congreso Universitario Internacional Investigación y Género (2018), p 686-712. SIEMUS (Seminario Interdisciplinar de Estudios de las Mujeres de la Universidad de Sevilla), 2018.
  • Ocampo, Juan, et al. “Asociación entre índice de masa corporal y depresión en mujeres adolescentes.” International Journal of Morphology 35.4 (2017): 1547-1552.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.