Having a common mental health problem such as
anxiety or depression puts you at greater risk of obesity in old
age, according to a new
Researchers studied a group of 10,166 civil
servants aged between 35 and 55. Each person was given a medical
examination where their weight and height was measured to determine
obesity. Each person also completed a General Health Questionnaire,
to check for symptoms of anxiety and depression. These tests were
repeated another three times over a period of 19 years. The
findings are published in the August issue of the British
Journal of Psychiatry.
The researchers found that 6% of all people in
the group were obese at the age of 40. There was no difference in
levels of obesity between those people who had mental health
disorders and those who didn’t. However, there was a clear
difference when people reached the age of 70. At this age, 35% of
people who had common mental health disorders were obese compared
to 27% of people who did not.
Overall, the odds of being obese was 1.12
times higher for people with common mental health disorders than
for others. The risk of being obese did not vary by people’s
gender, ethnic background or socio-economic status.
The researchers put forward several
explanations for their findings. First, common mental health
problems can be a cause of obesity. They can be associated with
both under- and over-eating, and people with mental health problems
are less likely to exercise. Some medications for depression can
also have side-effects that may result in weight gain or weight
Second, people who are obese may have a poor
self-body image and therefore be at greater risk of developing
mental health problems. This is particularly true in societies
where being overweight is stigmatised and seen negatively.
Third, as people get older they may start
experiencing health problems that cause them to both put on weight
and become more depressed or anxious.
Lead researcher Dr Mika Kivimäki, of
University College London, said: “This study emphasises the role of
common mental disorders in the risk of obesity at older ages. There
is a need for more detailed clinical guidelines to help doctors
prevent and treat obesity among adults with mental health
disorders, and promote better mental health among older people who
For further information, please
McLoughlin in the Communications Department.
Telephone: 0203 701 2544 or 07738 349070
Kivimäki M, Batty GD, Singh-Manoux A, Nabi H, Sabia S, Tabak AG, Akbaraly TN, Vahtera J, Marmot MG and Jokela M (2009) Association between common mental disorder and obesity over the adult life course, British Journal of Psychiatry, 195: 149-155