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Mental Health and Obesity: What's the Connection?

Written by Harshita Parmar


How are mental health and obesity linked?

Many researchers have proved a direct relationship between mental health and obesity. The correlation can go both ways, with obesity being caused by mental health problems and vice versa. Regardless, obesity has been proven to cause significant increases in mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and even psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Additionally, obesity can cause many physiological issues, such as chronic pain, and body image issues in people, which can lead to weight bias which also causes a decline in mental health, causing behaviors such as social isolation and difficulty coping.

What are some causes of obesity?

There are a variety of reasons that cause obesity; some obvious causes include unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical activity. Other factors include extreme stress, genetics, illness (psychological and physiological), environmental factors such as schools and childcare centers, and metabolism levels. Two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, trigger and decrease appetite respectively, and the imbalance of one or both of these hormones can cause a change in metabolism level, making individuals more prone to obesity. Conditions like PCOS can also affect obesity in women as it is caused by extreme levels of different hormones, such as androgen and insulin.

Which groups of people are more at risk for obesity?

According to the CDC, the age group of adults most at risk for obesity are those between the ages of 40 to 59 years, with a percentage of 44.3%. Women are more at risk to develop obesity in general, and socioeconomic factors can play a significant role: women that have a lower socioeconomic status are more likely to be affected with obesity than women that are rich or of higher social status. Factors such as access to healthy food and healthcare play an important role in this. Individuals with lower socioeconomic status tend to live in areas with lower access to grocery stores, an abundance of cheap fast food options, and may struggle with food insecurity. Overall, men and women with college degrees were also found to have lower risk of developing obesity as compared to those with less education.

What other diseases can obesity increase the risk of?

Obesity not only increases the risk for psychological disorders but many physiological diseases such as cancer, type II diabetes, heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), joint ailments, respiratory problems as well as sleep apnea. In terms of psychological disorders such as depression, adults affected with excess weight had a 55% higher risk of developing depression and people already diagnosed with depression had 58% greater risk of developing obesity.

How can we slow down the risk of obesity and mental health disorders and provide effective treatment?

Obesity can be prevented by maintaining healthy activity levels and eating habits, as well as having good stress management and striving to get a good night’s sleep daily. Limiting the amount of processed foods and replacing it with healthier alternatives can be a good first step! There are many treatment options available to help control obesity, such as intermittent fasting, which has many benefits including lowering inflammation, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, and exercising. It is also vital to minimize stress levels and ensure that you get a full 8 hours of sleep because sleep is directly correlated with metabolic rate; not sleeping on time can lead to eating late at night and this causes the energy to be stored as fat rather than burned. Poor sleep can also affect the hormone insulin, which can cause type 2 diabetes. Patients that are affected with obesity and mental health may be prescribed psychiatric medication with an intentional side effect of weight loss, and if patients’ weight has no change to it, then behavioral weight loss programs are recommended to aid in weight loss. If all else fails, pharmacotherapy and bariatric surgery may be the options considered for weight loss.


Works Cited

“Higher BMI is significantly associated with worse mental health, especially in women.” MedicalNewsToday, 9 November 2017, Accessed 9 March 2024.

“Addressing The Obesity Epidemic Will Require Prevention And Treatment Working Together.” HealthAffairs, 6 January 2023, Accessed 9 March 2024.

“Adult Obesity Facts | Overweight & Obesity | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Accessed 9 March 2024.

Ali, Yasmine S. “Obesity Prevention: Diet, Exercise, Stress, Sleep.” Verywell Health, 17 September 2022, Accessed 9 March 2024.

“Causes of Obesity | Overweight & Obesity | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 March 2022, Accessed 9 March 2024.

Doctrow, Brian. “Research in Context: Obesity and metabolic health.” National Institutes of Health (NIH), 17 October 2023, Accessed 9 March 2024.

“Fast Facts – Mental Health and Obesity | STOP Obesity Alliance | Milken Institute School of Public Health | The George Washington University.” STOP Obesity Alliance, Accessed 9 March 2024.

“Mental health challenges contributed to weight gain for people with obesity during COVID-19.” UT Southwestern Medical Center, 9 August 2022, Accessed 9 March 2024.

“Overview of Obesity.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, Accessed 9 March 2024.

“Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) - Symptoms and causes.” Mayo Clinic, 8 September 2022, Accessed 9 March 2024.

Vafiadis, Dorothea. “How Excess Weight Impacts Our Mental and Emotional Health.” National Council on Aging, Accessed 9 March 2024.

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