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Obesity and Mental Health

Further data from a large community study supports a link. Robert E. Roberts, PhD., and colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston gathered data on 2,123 participants living in Alameda County. Taking into account factors such as social class, social support, chronic medical conditions and life events, they found that “obesity at baseline was associated with increased risk of depression five years later. The reverse was not true; depression did not increase the risk of future obesity.”

Some data have indicated that binge eating may explain, at least in part, the relationship observed between obesity and depression. This may be because binge eating could contribute to weight gain and obesity, which, in turn, may negatively affect mood. Furthermore, recurrent episodes of binge eating are extremely unpleasant for those who experience them, and may put the individual at higher risk of clinical depression.

The Impact on Health Care

Both the direct and indirect medical costs of obesity will become a major burden for health care systems around the world.

In the U.S., a 1998 study found that medical expenses attributed to both overweight and obesity accounted for 9.1 percent of total U.S. medical expenditure — possibly reaching $78.5 billion (the equivalent of nearly $100 billion today). Half of these costs were paid by Medicaid and Medicare.

Around the world, the WHO found the economic costs of obesity to be in the range of two to seven percent of total healthcare costs, as a conservative estimate.

What Is Being Done?

Despite soaring obesity rates, few effective obesity management systems are in place around the world.

The WHO began sounding the alarm in the 1990s, and stated that obesity is predominantly a “social and environmental disease.” They recommend a range of long-term strategies for groups at risk of obesity — an integrated, population-based approach, with support for healthy diets and regular exercise.

In reality, approaches vary widely between countries, with a general lack of comprehensive services. All too often obesity is not viewed as a serious medical condition. It tends to be treated only when another disease has developed.

Experts believe the most effective approach for weight loss in obese people is a diet aimed at reducing total energy intake; however, all but five percent of people who lose weight on a diet regain it all. Nevertheless the diet industry is worth $40 billion a year in the U.S. alone.

Certain high-risk patients are given weight-loss drugs, but these cannot be used long-term due to side effects such as high blood pressure, anxiety and restlessness. New drugs are being developed that may produce fewer side-effects.

Surgical options include gastric bypass, gastroplasty (which decreases stomach capacity with a band), jaw wiring and liposuction. But tackling obesity clearly will mean changing people’s lifestyles — encouraging them to eat more healthily and exercise more. Many efforts focus on children and schools to set in place healthy habits for life.


Garrow and Summerbell study

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

PubMed article
International Obesity Task Force

American Obesity Association

Weight Control Information Network


BBC information on obesity

Economist story (requires subscription)

Katz, D. A. et al. Impact of obesity on health-related quality of life in patients with chronic illness. Journal of General Internal Medicine, Vol. 15, November 2000, pp. 789-96.

Sullivan, M. et al. Swedish obese subjects (SOS) – an intervention study of obesity. Baseline evaluation of health and psychosocial functioning in the first 1743 subjects examined. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, Vol. 17, September 1993, p. 503-12.

Roberts, R. E. et al. Prospective association between obesity and depression: evidence from the Alameda County Study. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, Vol. 27, April 2003, pp. 514-21.

Obesity and Mental Health

Jane Collingwood

Jane Collingwood is a longtime regular contributing journalist to Psych Central, focusing on topics of mental health and dissecting recent research findings.

APA Reference
Collingwood, J. (2018). Obesity and Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 21, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.