Evidence Found of Obesity Causing Depression


A new study has provided the strongest evidence yet that the psychological impact of being overweight or obese causes depression.

The study from Australia and the UK also found that the link between obesity and depression is more common in women than in men.

Relationship between weight and depression

Previous studies have found that depression is more common in obese people than in people who are a healthy weight. However, the relationship between weight and depression is complex, with it being unclear whether depression leads to weight being put on, or if being overweight leads to depression.

This study involving researchers from Australia and the UK looked at the link in more detail, including analysing genetic factors.

Genetic factors

Researchers analysed data from the UK Biobank on more than 48,000 people with depression, and compared them to a control group of more than 290,000 people. They looked for causal effects of higher body mass index (BMI) on depression.

Instances of depression were found by looking at questionnaires that the participants had filled in, and also hospital data.

They then looked at the genes that cause people to have a higher BMI and to be more susceptible to conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. And they also looked at genes that are linked to a higher BMI but not to these other health problems.

More likely to be depressed

The results found that, overall, the people with a higher BMI were more likely to suffer from depression. But they also found that being genetically disposed to having a higher BMI was strongly associated with depression, especially in women.

For every 4.7-point increase in BMI, the risk of being depressed increase by 18% overall, and by 23% in women. They also found that the genetic variants linked to having a high BMI but not to conditions such as diabetes and heart disease were also linked to an increased risk of having depression.

Strong association

Professor Elina Hypponen, co-lead of the study, said: “We separated the psychological component of obesity from the impact of obesity-related health problems using genes associated with higher BMI, but with lower risk of diseases like diabetes.

“These genes were just as strongly associated with depression as those genes associated with higher BMI and diabetes. This suggests that being overweight causes depression both with and without related health issues – particularly in women.”


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