Can Obesity Weigh Your Mental Health Down?


  • Obesity can lead to many mental disorders like depression, nicotine abuse, and anxiety disorders
  • Obese women are thrice as likely to have a depressive episode when compared to non-obese women
  • When it comes to nicotine abuse disorder, men are at a higher risk


Obesity is one of the biggest killers today. It has been linked to various physical diseases like heart attack, stroke, cancer, and kidney disease. But what about mental illness?

Obesity increases the likelihood of having mental illnesses considerably. This applies to all age groups, with women having a higher risk of most diseases than males, according to a recent study from the Complexity Science Hub and the Medical University of Vienna. The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Translational Psychiatry.

“We analyzed a population-wide national registry of inpatient hospitalizations in Austria from 1997 to 2014 in order to determine the relative risks of comorbidities in obesity and identify statistically significant sex differences,” explains Elma Dervic of the Complexity Science Hub.

Obesity can Increase the Risk of Mental Health Disorders

As a result, it became clear that being diagnosed with obesity increases the risk of a wide range of mental problems across all age groups, including depression, nicotine addiction, psychosis, anxiety, eating, and personality disorders ().

“From a clinical point of view, these results emphasize the need to raise awareness of psychiatric diagnoses in obese patients and, if necessary, to consult specialists at an early stage of diagnosis”, says Michael Leutner of the Medical University of Vienna.

Mental Disorders Followed Obesity

“In order to find out which illness typically appeared prior and subsequently to the obesity diagnosis, we had to develop a new method,” explains Dervic. This allowed the researchers to determine if there were trends and typical patterns in disease occurrence.

In the case of all co-diagnoses, with the exception of the psychosis spectrum, obesity was in all likelihood the first diagnosis made prior to the manifestation of a psychiatric diagnosis.

“Until now, physicians often considered psychopharmacological medications to cause the association between mental disorders and obesity as well as diabetes. This may be true for schizophrenia, where we see the opposite time order, but our data does not support this for depression or other psychiatric diagnoses,” explains Alexander Kautzky from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the Medical University Vienna. However, it is unknown if obesity has a direct impact on mental health or whether the early stages of psychiatric problems are under-recognized.

Women at a Higher Risk of Mental Illnesses

Surprisingly, the researchers discovered substantial gender differences for the majority of illnesses, with women having a higher risk for all but schizophrenia and nicotine addiction.

While 16.66% of obese men also suffer from nicotine abuse disorder, this is only the case in up to 8.58% of obese women. The opposite is true for depression. The rate of diagnosed depressive episodes was almost three times higher in obese women (13.3% obese; 4.8% non-obese). Obese men were twice as likely to be affected (6.61% obese; 3.21% non-obese).

Fighting Obesity at a Young Age Might be Key

Obesity is a highly prevalent disease worldwide and affects more than 670 million people. It has already been thoroughly explored how the condition promotes metabolic diseases and significant cardio-metabolic consequences like diabetes mellitus, arterial hypertension, and dyslipidemia.

Because this study now indicates that obesity frequently precedes severe mental disorders, the findings emphasize the importance of obesity as a pleiotropic risk factor for many types of health problems.

This is especially true for younger age groups when the risk is greatest. As a result, the researchers suggest that extensive screening for mental health disorders in obese patients is urgently needed to aid prevention or ensure appropriate treatment can be provided.

Reference :

  1. Obesity as pleiotropic risk state for metabolic and mental health throughout life – (