Depression: Does it cause obesity or does the opposite hold true?


Depression and Obesity are two of the world’s biggest health-related problems. Millions, even billions of people are affected by both health issues and many lose their lives because of them. Apart from the fact that the number of people suffering from both is increasing exponentially every year, there’s another thing in common between the two.

Several studies have pointed out that the two health conditions tend to often overlap. Those who are obese are often diagnosed with depression as well and the opposite can also be true. There are many explanations as to why the former occurs, but others have also argued that the latter is also a valid case. There are some that also argue that the two conditions go hand in hand with each other i.e. If you have one of the two, you’re likely to develop the other as well. There are multiple viewpoints, each of which has a valid argument.

The relationship between Obesity and Depression

Researchers from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom alongside scientists from the University of South Australia worked on investigating the link between the two health issues. The results of the study are published here. The motivation behind the study was simple.

Both depression and obesity are major health issues that affect a lot of people. Moreover, there is a possible link between the two conditions but it’s unclear whether one causes the other or whether both go hand in hand with each other. The aim of the study was to find answers to these questions and to get a better understanding of the link between the two health disorders.

Image: Everyday Health

As for the data used in the study itself, it was genetic data. The data was used to find a causal link between obesity and depression. The researchers solely looked at the two health conditions. For example, in the absence of any other health condition, they wanted to see if a high BMI had a link with an increased risk of depression.

The genetic and medical data were obtained from 48,000 people with depression. It was then compared with a large number of controls, 290,000 to be exact. The large scale of the study makes it the biggest study done yet on this research topic. For studies of this nature, the larger the scale the better as it gives a more accurate result. What did the researchers find?

The researchers were able to indeed find a link between the two disorders as a higher BMI was linked to a higher risk of depression. Another interesting thing to come out of this study was that this link was stronger in women as compared to men. Women with high BMI had a risk of 21% whereas men only had an 8% risk rate.

The researchers were also able to separate out the psychological component of obesity which led to a more comprehensive analysis. A lot of variables were considered in their analysis such as a person’s physical activity, their economic status, their alcohol consumption etc. It was found that people who had genetic factors that would lead to obesity were more likely to develop depression. As mentioned above, this trend was found in women more.

To add further weight behind their conclusions, the researchers also took data from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. After analyzing this dataset, similar trends were found. According to Dr. Tyrrell, these results are quite significant because:

 “This is important to help target efforts to reduce depression, which makes it much harder for people to adopt [healthful] lifestyle habits.”

However, they also explain:

“we have not ruled [out] a possible bidirectional causal relationship between higher BMI and depression […] Further research is required to explore the causal role of depression on body mass index and obesity.”

Although a huge link between obesity and depression was found, researchers weren’t able to determine whether one causes the other or not. It’s still a question that’s up in the air. Perhaps the answer might become clearer as more research is done in this area.


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Olivia Parker

Parker holds a masters in computer science, but her love for movies and everything that goes into making them forced her to divert her strength to entertainment world. She has been interviewed a number of celebrities in her previous jobs.


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