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Higher BMI is significantly associated with worse mental health, especially in women, study finds

6 Mar 2024

A higher body mass index (BMI) is significantly associated with worse mental health, a new study finds.

Researchers at University College Cork (UCC) examined 1,821 middle- to older-aged adults from the Mitchelstown Cohort Study in County Cork, Ireland, to ascertain the link between BMI and mental health.

The research, published in the journal PLOS One today, shows significant relationships between increased adiposity and a greater number of depressive symptoms after adjustment for demographic characteristics, lifestyle factors and disease conditions. This relationship was more pronounced in females compared to males.

The researchers found that increased weight may exacerbate depression through social means, such as prejudice, discrimination and self- and societal-stigma. The chronic pain that is directly caused by obesity, such as joint pain, back pain and fibromyalgia, is also known to result in depression.

This was a cross-sectional study, and the researchers state that is possible that increased adiposity is a consequence of depressive symptoms, rather than a cause. Nevertheless, the authors suggest that targeted interventions for reducing depression should include better population-level weight management measures.

The study was conducted by Dr Caoimhe Lonergan, Dr Seán Millar and Dr Zubair Kabir from the School of Public Health at UCC in Ireland.

Commenting, Dr Seán Millar states "Although our research suggests that the relationship between adiposity and depressive symptoms is independent of potential confounders such smoking, alcohol use, low-level physical activity and chronic conditions, future studies using prospective data, in diverse populations, are needed to confirm these findings. In addition, further research is required to identify the mechanisms which links overweight and obesity with depression."

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