Cause & Effect: The Link Between Obesity and Depression

You probably know that obesity puts you at risk of a variety of physical ailments, but did you know that it may also increase your risk of developing depression?

Obesity's Emotional Toll

From childhood into adulthood, being overweight can take an emotional toll. David Engstrom, PhD, of the Obesity Action Coalition points out some of the ways that obesity may have a negative effect on mental health:

  • Teasing from other children during childhood and adolescence.

  • Feelings of not fitting in among peers.

  • Dissatisfaction with one's appearance.

  • Frustration at not being able to lose weight.

  • Inability to enjoy life to the fullest because of the physical effects of excess weight.

Studies have backed up the idea that obesity can lead to body dissatisfaction, which may in turn lead to depression. The obesity-depression connection has found to be especially strong among women and people in higher socio-economic classes. Other studies have indicated that in cases of extreme obesity, both men and women are more likely to experience depression than their peers of a lower weight.

Depression's Effect on Weight

Unfortunately, depression may compound weight issues. It can cause shifts in hormone levels and immune system function, which in turn lead to weight gain.

Depression can also hinder the motivation to be active. The tiredness that is often associated with depression may make putting forth the effort to exercise seem like an insurmountable challenge. As physical activity decreases, the number on the scale climbs up. To compound matters, overeating and binge eating are other known side effects of depression.

Treating Both Obesity and Depression

Because obesity and depression can have such a cyclical relationship, treating them in tandem may be the key to your move toward a healthier lifestyle.


  • The American Psychological Association recommends building a team of health care professionals, such as both a physician and a therapist. They can help you manage your condition from all sides, both physical and mental.

  • Talk to your doctor about antidepressant options, as these medications often cause greater weight gain. In one 2014 study, brupropion was shown to cause the least weight gain over a 12-month course of treatment.

  • Develop an exercise regimen. Physical activity is not only beneficial for weight loss, but can also help with managing depression symptoms.

  • Stress reduction is another lifestyle adjustment that can have a positive effect on both weight and mental health.

  • Start small. Although it's tempting to try overhauling your life all in one fell swoop, it's better for your emotional well-being to take it one step at a time. Fortunately, over time, small steps can add up to big change.