Man and Woman I

The Mental Health Burden of Obesity for Women

New research provides impressive evidence for the contribution of obesity to the risk of a range of mental health disorders. These include depression, psychosis, eating and personality disorders. The added risk is apparent at all ages, in both men and women. Furthermore, these data suggest that the mental health burden of obesity is greater in women than in men. The authors conclude:

“In addition to the well-recognized role in promoting disorders related to the metabolic syndrome and severe cardiometabolic sequalae, obesity commonly precedes severe mental health disorders. Risk is most pronounced in young age groups and particularly increased in female patients. Consequently, thorough screening for mental health problems in patients with obesity is urgently called for to allow prevention and facilitate adequate treatment.”

National Registry Data from Austria

To make these findings, Michael Leutner and colleagues examined national registry data from Austria for inpatient services from 1997 to 2014. By utilizing these data, the authors are confident that their findings are fully representative of the Austrian healthcare system. The elevated risks for all of these mental health diagnoses were elevated by more than 50 percent. For all but diagnoses of psychosis, the obesity diagnosis generally came first.

Lifelong Risks

Leutner et al note that increases in risk for mental health disorders following a diagnosis of obesity are long-lasting. This observation of lifelong risks is consistent with research presented at ECO2023 last month. Eric Robinson and colleagues presented data indicating that the psychological effects of living with obesity can have lasting effects – affecting health even long after obesity might be in remission.

I Gusti Ngurah Edi Putra, a co-author of this research, explained:

“Our findings suggest that obesity may be psychologically scarring and that these psychological scars may increase the risk of an early death.”

These findings underscore the imperative to provide good mental health support for people coping with obesity. Too often, this dimension of obesity care may be seen as having secondary importance.

Click here for the study by Leutner et al and here for further perspective from the investigators. For the research by Putra, Robinson, and colleagues, click here and here for further reporting on it.

Man and Woman I, woodcut by Edvard Munch / WikiArt

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June 1, 2023

One Response to “The Mental Health Burden of Obesity for Women”

  1. June 01, 2023 at 10:41 am, Megan said:

    I don’t find the results provide a high level of confidence in the directionality of the effect from obesity to mental health issue. While the order of the diagnoses is suggestive, it seems highly plausible that this could be an artifact of the messy process of obtaining a diagnosis rather than a true temporal pattern. Obesity is certainly easier to diagnose than depression, for example.