An increase in depressive feelings leads to an increase in body weight within just one month in overweight or obese people. This suggests how much mental health influences weight and how important it is to treat depressive symptoms as quickly as possible in people with weight problems.
A new study involving experts from the University of Cambridge examined how small fluctuations in psychological well-being affect body weight over short periods of time. The results can be read in the English-language specialist magazine “PLoS ONE”.
Mental health and weight
Although poor mental health is generally associated with obesity, existing studies are either cross-sectional or have long periods between measurements of mental health and weight, the team explains.
It is therefore unclear how even small changes in psychological well-being over a short period of time (e.g. a month) affect body weight. To find an answer to this question, the researchers analyzed data from 2,133 adult participants.
Participants completed monthly digital questionnaires about their mental well-being and body weight for up to nine months during the COVID-19 pandemic. The questions were designed to assess symptoms related to depression, anxiety, and perceived stress.
Connection between well-being and weight gain?
Using statistical models, the experts further examined whether poorer psychological well-being was associated with a change in body weight one month later. It showed that each increase in the usual depressive symptom score was associated with a weight gain of 45 grams one month later.
Although this weight gain seems very small at first glance, an increase in depressive symptoms from five to ten, which corresponds to an increase from mild to moderate depressive symptoms, is associated with an average weight gain of 225 g, the team explains.
The researchers add that this effect was only observed in overweight or obese people. Overweight people gained an average of 52 grams per point more than their normal level for depressive symptoms, and obese people gained as much as 71 grams.
Weight gain due to depression
“Overall, this suggests that people who are overweight or obese are more susceptible to gaining weight in response to greater depression,” explains study author Dr. Julia Mueller in a press release.
Even small changes in weight can lead to larger weight changes in the long term, especially in overweight and obese people. Because these people are already at increased risk for health problems, gaining weight due to feelings of depression could contribute to further deterioration in health.
“Monitoring and treating depressive symptoms in people who are overweight or obese could help prevent further weight gain and have a positive impact on both their mental and physical health,” adds the doctor. (as)