Weight Discrimination and Depression in the Pandemic

Brooding Woman“I don’t know how everyone else is coping but I’ve been up and down like a rollercoaster,” says Ricki Frost of Middlesbrough, England. His comments point to the mental health challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic. Depression and anxiety are high on that list. What’s more, weight discrimination can make it worse. New research in Obesity tells us that a history of encountering weight discrimination leaves people more vulnerable to depression during the pandemic.

In fact, the researchers found that weight discrimination before the pandemic doubled the odds of developing depression during it. However, BMI, by itself, had no obvious effect.


In addition, these data document a link between discrimination with declines in two important measures of well being – purpose in life and life satisfaction. These are factors that contribute to a person’s resilience. Without a sense of purpose, people are more vulnerable to depression.

Of course, this is an observational study with a number of limitations. People dropped out and those dropouts might have been having very different experiences than subjects who stayed in the study. The sample was stratified to have good representation by gender, age, and race, but it was not representative of the U.S. population.

Considerable Mental Health Impact Made Worse

Without a doubt, the mental health effects of this pandemic have been considerable. Those effects are felt all around the world. Right now, Japan is seeing a spike in suicides brought by the mental health strains of coping with COVID-19.

We cannot hide from the pandemic. Pretending it will disappear if we ignore it is absurd. But we can take this time to reflect on the inequities and discrimination we impose on other people. They impose a kind of tax on mental health that leaves all of us worse off. That’s because mental health problems are costly – to individuals, to their families, and to the economy.

Weight discrimination is part of this picture. It is common, counter-productive, and, yes, costly. It adds to the burden of mental illness. We can and we should choose to stop it.

Click here for this new study by Angelina Sutin et al. Click here for more on the mental health impact of the pandemic.

Brooding Woman, painting by Paul Gauguin / WikiArt

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October 9, 2020