May 18, 2024

Study Reveals Link Between Depression and Short-Term Weight Gain

A recent study conducted by the University of Cambridge has found that increases in symptoms of depression are associated with a subsequent increase in body weight, particularly among individuals with overweight or obesity. The study, published in PLOS ONE, aimed to understand the complex relationship between weight and mental health and how changes in mental health can influence body weight over time.

The researchers analyzed data from over 2,000 adults living in Cambridgeshire, UK, who participated in the Fenland COVID-19 Study. Participants completed digital questionnaires assessing their mental well-being and body weight every month for up to nine months during the COVID-19 pandemic. The scores from the questionnaires were used to measure symptoms of depression, anxiety, and perceived stress.

The study found that for every increment increase in an individual’s score for depressive symptoms, their weight one month later increased by 45g. This increase was only observed in individuals with overweight or obesity, not in those with a healthy weight. Specifically, individuals with overweight experienced an average weight gain of 52g for each increment point increase in their depressive symptoms score, while those with obesity had a weight gain of 71g.

Dr. Julia Mueller, the first author of the study, highlighted the importance of these findings for individuals with overweight or obesity. She explained that even small weight changes over short periods of time can lead to significant long-term weight changes, which can have detrimental effects on their health. Monitoring and addressing depressive symptoms in these individuals could help prevent further weight gain and improve both their mental and physical well-being.

Interestingly, the study found no evidence of a relationship between perceived stress or anxiety and changes in weight. This suggests that depressive symptoms specifically are associated with short-term weight gain, while other mental health factors may not have the same influence.

The researchers also emphasized the importance of technology in collecting data for this study. The use of a mobile app allowed participants to answer short questions about their well-being more frequently and over an extended period of time. This provided valuable information about how changes in mental health can affect behavior, particularly among individuals with overweight or obesity. Understanding these patterns can potentially lead to the development of timely interventions when needed.

While previous studies have suggested a bidirectional relationship between poor mental health and obesity, this study found no evidence to support the claim that weight predicts subsequent symptoms of depression. Further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms underlying the link between depression and weight gain and to explore effective interventions for individuals at risk.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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