NEWS Mental Health News People With Higher BMI May Be at Higher Risk for Depression By Krystal Jagoo Krystal Jagoo Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice, who has worked for three academic institutions across Canada. Her essay, “Inclusive Reproductive Justice,” was in the Reproductive Justice Briefing Book. Learn about our editorial process Published on September 10, 2021 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Nicholas Blackmer Fact checked by Nicholas Blackmer LinkedIn Nick Blackmer is a librarian, fact-checker, and researcher with more than 20 years’ experience in consumer-oriented health and wellness content. He keeps a DSM-5 on hand just in case. Learn about our editorial process Share Tweet Email Print Getty Images Key Takeaways A recent study found that a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) was associated with higher odds of depression.Higher BMI was associated with lower levels of well-being.Higher BMI was not associated with higher levels of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Body mass index or BMI is a measure of body fat based on a calculation of weight and height. refers to a calculation that is based on weight and height. BMI is a dated, biased measure that doesn’t account for several factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, race, gender, and age. Despite being a flawed measure, BMI is widely used today in the medical community because it is an inexpensive and quick method for analyzing potential health status and outcomes. Recently, a study published in Human Molecular Genetics found that higher BMI was linked to higher rates of depression and lower reported levels of well-being. Especially given how the stress of the pandemic impacted minds and bodies, it is crucial to understand the factors that may impact depression. Understanding the Research For this study, data were analyzed from 145,668 individuals in the UK, to ascertain connections between BMI and mental health outcomes. While higher BMI was found to be associated with higher odds of depression and lower rates of well-being, this was not the case for rates of generalized anxiety disorder. Researchers assessed two sets of genetic variants, whereby one set of genes made people gain weight, despite being metabolically healthier, while the other set of genes contributed to weight gain and was metabolically unhealthy, but did not find significant differences between them. These findings suggest that both physical and social considerations may impact these higher rates of depression and lower rates of well-being. Despite the large sample size, it is a limitation that the participants were only of European ancestry, so these findings are not generalizable. What Is Fat Acceptance? Fatphobia Can Increase Depression Risks Certified bariatric specialist, and neuroscientist, Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C, says, “There is a correlation between higher BMI and ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) from a 1985 Kaiser Permanente and CDC study.” Renetta Weaver, LCSWC Fatphobia is something that can definitely increase the risk for depression because there are a lot of stigma and stereotypes about people with a certain BMI being lazy, unmotivated, and other negative adjectives. — Renetta Weaver, LCSWC By this, Weaver explains that if someone has a higher BMI and they are an emotional eater due to being in survival mode then depression is probably on board and food may be producing hormonal changes with respect to dopamine and serotonin, which can make a person with high cortisol levels (stress hormone) to feel better. “A person who is experiencing depression may use food to numb out and escape,” she says. Weaver says, “Fatphobia is something that can definitely increase the risk for depression because there are a lot of stigma and stereotypes about people with a certain BMI being lazy, unmotivated, and other negative adjectives.” In addition to her professional training, Weaver personally understands the correlation between emotional and physical weight as a person with a higher BMI who has undergone bariatric surgery. Given her experience, Weaver says, “I wish the public knew more about how BMI is not a true measure of one’s weight because of the difference in muscle and weight, biology, culture, etc. There’s also the biological and evolutionary factors of weight, including lifestyle and environment.” Body Shaming, Harmful Diet Culture on the Rise During COVID-19 BMI Is Only One Factor Jacqueline Rech, MS, LPC, says, “I feel like this is a case where correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. They were only looking at genetics with a small mention of a mental health questionnaire. If you have your magnifying glass that close to the ground, all you will see is what you’re trying to find, without looking up to the whole rest of the world at other possible causes for what you see under your magnifying glass.” Jacqueline Rech, MS, LPC And that’s not even factoring in things like history of trauma, C-PTSD, family genetics, or simply the fact that maybe a person never learned about proper nutrition and all the processed foods they are consuming are filled with chemicals that interrupt healthy brain development. — Jacqueline Rech, MS, LPC In this way, Rech questions if depression can be said to cause the higher BMI, as she believes that one could easily argue both sides. “And that’s not even factoring in things like history of trauma, C-PTSD, family genetics, or simply the fact that maybe a person never learned about proper nutrition and all the processed foods they are consuming are filled with chemicals that interrupt healthy brain development,” she says. Especially given the stress that has come with living during a pandemic, which can include losing a job, Rech highlights how other factors need to be considered when thinking critically about weight and depression. She explains that it is possible to explore how to make real changes that would decrease depressive symptoms. “There’s counseling and medication management, exercise, food changes, support groups, etc.,” she says. What This Means For You As the research demonstrates, there is a correlation between higher BMI and higher odds of depression and lower levels of well-being. It is important to think critically about both the physical and social factors that may impact mental health. Weight stigma can often be a substantial barrier to both weight loss and addressing depression.Given how these harmful narratives can impact mental health, social factors deserve further consideration. Especially if you are not subjected to negative assumptions based on your weight, you have a responsibility to challenge the problematic status quo. Individuals of all shapes and sizes deserve to feel comfortable in their bodies. Emotional Eating During COVID-19 Pandemic 2 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Casanova F, O’Loughlin J, Martin S et al. Higher adiposity and mental health: causal inference using Mendelian randomization. Hum Mol Genet. Published online July 16, 2021. doi:10.1093/hmg/ddab204 Felitti V, Anda R, Nordenberg D, et al. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. Am J Prev Med. 1998;14(4):245-258. doi:10.1016/s0749-3797(98)00017-8 By Krystal Jagoo Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.