March 03, 2021

Psychological Effects of Obesity

Obesity and Mental Health

With more than two-thirds of Americans being classified as overweight or obese, obesity may be the largest health epidemic in America. Obesity and mental health are closely related, and while obesity isn’t directly a mental health issue, the psychological effects of being obese can lead to mental health issues.

Obesity and Mental Health

Studies have found concrete evidence of a link between obesity and mood/anxiety disorders. The relationship between obesity and mental health varies by individual, and neither directly causes the other. For some people, emotional distress can lead to overeating and weight gain. For others, obesity can cause emotional distress, which can lead to negative feelings about themselves. Below, we’ll outline the mental health conditions that are associated with obesity.

Obesity and Anxiety

Anxiety is a type of mental disorder that involves significant worry. People who are obese are susceptible to the following anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety. This involves excessive worry about multiple areas of a person’s life. 
  • Social anxiety disorder. This occurs when a person’s worry is mainly focused on social interactions with others.
  • Panic Disorder. This often occurs with other anxiety disorders. People with panic disorder experience panic attacks, which are characterized by intense anxiety that also include symptoms like dizziness, chest pain, and shortness of breath.

It’s not known precisely why people who are obese are more likely to experience anxiety. One explanation, though, might stem from issues obese people face, such as:

  • Increased stigma
  • Judgment
  • Health problems
  • Lower self-esteem

Obesity and Depression

The link between obesity and depression is multidimensional. Depression is a mood disorder that involves sadness, loss of interest in activities or hobbies, and negative feelings about one’s self. Increased appetite and weight gain are common symptoms of depression, which can put people with depression at risk for developing obesity. People who already have depression may use food as a way to cope with negative feelings and subsequently lead to gaining weight, while people with existing obesity may have negative feelings that lead to depression from coping with the condition. 

Obesity and Bipolar Disorder

Like depression, people with bipolar disorder may turn to food to cope with the stress of their disorder, which leads to weight gain, while people with obesity may begin to suffer from bipolar disease as a direct result of their condition. Bipolar disorder is another type of mood disorder that involves manic and depressive episodes. During a manic episode, a person experiences either an elevated or irritable mood for at least a week. 

Being obese and suffering from bipolar disorder is concerning because it’s associated with:

  • More manic and depressive episodes
  • More severe depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Resistance to treatment

Emotional Impact of Obesity

People who are overweight are exposed to a number of mental health risks that have to do with the extraordinary pressure most overweight people face to be thin. Some of the issues obese people face include:

  • Intrusive questions and comments from well-meaning loved ones
  • Medical providers who don’t take their concerns seriously
  • Hurtful comments from children and other people who don’t know any better
  • Employment discrimination

Over time, these issues can have a profound effect on an obese person’s quality of life, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and a host of other ills. 

Learn More About Obesity and Mental Health from Baptist Health

If you have questions or concerns about obesity and mental health, find a Baptist Health Endocrinologist near you to learn more. 

Next Steps and Useful Resources:

Does Diabetes Cause Weight Loss or Gain?
Take a Free Health Risk Assessment
The Impact of Obesity on Your Heart and Joints
5 Ways Obesity Affects Your Health

Learn More.