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Vicious Cycle: Depression and Weight Gain Often Go Together
  • Posted January 10, 2024

Vicious Cycle: Depression and Weight Gain Often Go Together

A bout of depression can trigger a bump in body weight among people struggling with obesity, a new study has found.

People who had an increase in symptoms related to depression experienced an increase in their weight a month later, researchers report in the journal PLOS One.

“Overall, this suggests that individuals with overweight or obesity are more vulnerable to weight gain in response to feeling more depressed,” lead researcher Julia Mueller from the University of Cambridge's Medical Research Council said in a university news release.

The results support prior research pointing to a link between weight and mental health, with each potentially influencing the other.

For the study, researchers examined data from more than 2,000 adults in the United Kingdom who were participating in a COVID-19 study.

Participants completed monthly digital questionnaires on their mental well-being and body weight, using a mobile app. Questions in the study assessed each person's symptoms of depression, anxiety and perceived stress.

For every incremental increase in a person's usual depression score, their weight increased by about a tenth of a pound one month later, results show.

It might seem like a small weight gain, but researchers noted that if a person's depression rose from five to 10 on the scale they used, it would relate to an average weight gain of a half-pound.

“Although the weight gain was relatively small, even small weight changes occurring over short periods of time can lead to larger weight changes in the long-term, particularly among those with overweight and obesity,” Mueller said.

This effect was only observed in people who are overweight or obese, researchers said. People with a healthy weight did not appear to gain weight as their mood fluctuated.

The researchers also found no evidence that stress or anxiety prompted weight gain, or that a person's weight predicted any increase in depression.

“People with a high BMI are already at greater risk from other health conditions, so this could potentially lead to a further deterioration in their health,” Mueller said. (BMI is short for body mass index, an estimate of body fat based on height and weight.)

“Monitoring and addressing depressive symptoms in individuals with overweight or obesity could help prevent further weight gain and be beneficial to both their mental and physical health,” she added.

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more on depression.

SOURCE: University of Cambridge, news release, Jan. 10, 2024

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