A study conclusively confirms what has been speculated and said for ages. But also highlights more than physical factors that contribute to it. Yes, being overweight can affect a person’s mental health. In addition to their physical characteristics that make them prone to depression, the social shame of body weight plays a role.
“[B]Getting fatter leads to a higher risk of depression, regardless of the role played by metabolic health, ”said Jessica O’Loughlin of the University of Exeter in the UK, who co-authored the study. “This suggests that both physical health and social factors such as social stigma play a role in the relationship between obesity and depression,” she added.
The study, published in Oxford’s Human Molecular Genetics, assessed genetic data from more than 145,000 participants in the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database compiled to examine the contribution of genetic predisposition and environmental exposure to disease development. Study participants also completed a mental health questionnaire, which was designed to assess levels of depression and anxiety, if any, in addition to general well-being.
Metabolic diseases related to obesity – such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease – increase the risk of depression. But even in her absence, several study participants who were overweight showed depression.
The researchers found two types of genetic variants that affect metabolic health. You increase your risk of gaining weight but staying metabolically healthy; the other also makes people more susceptible to weight gain, but makes them more susceptible to an unhealthy metabolism.
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Experts have long said that shaming someone does not lead to weight loss. “Shaming is the wrong way … All the evidence is that fat shaming only makes people feel worse. It lowers their self-esteem, ”Jane Ogden, professor of health psychology at the University of Surrey, told the BBC.
In fact, a 2014 study found that fat shaming was counterproductive – it made people gain more weight. “Shame leads to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can stimulate and increase appetite [the] Risk of depression and anxiety – both of which contribute to unhealthy eating habits, ”said Leslie Pristas, a US bariatric surgeon
While shame for their weight can lead to binge eating as a coping mechanism for some, which Pristas says puts them at greater “risk of having more weight stigma,” the stigma of weight gain can also lead to eating disorders for some.
In essence, active shame, as well as the stigma surrounding weight in society, can worsen people’s mental health.
“Obesity and depression are both major global health challenges, and our study provides the most robust evidence yet that a higher BMI causes depression,” noted O’Loughlin. She believes that knowledge of how “physical or social factors are responsible for this relationship” [between obesity and depression] can help develop effective strategies for improving mental health and well-being. “