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New research finds that having a higher BMI is linked with a significantly higher risk of depression, especially for women. Milena Magazin/Getty Images
  • A study reports that having a higher BMI is linked with more depression.
  • This association was particularly true for middle- and older-aged women.
  • One reason for this might be the pressures that society places on women.
  • Hormonal factors might also play a role.
  • The best way to get a healthy BMI is stress reduction, exercise, and gradual weight loss.

The authors of a study published in PLOS ONE, report that having a higher BMI is linked with worse mental health in middle- and older-aged people.

This was particularly true for women.

Previous research has found that obesity and mental health are linked, although the exact nature of this association is unclear.

Depression is a risk factor for obesity, especially in adolescent African American males and in those with atypical depression.

On the other hand, obesity itself is a risk factor for depression, especially in women.

According to the authors, there is research indicating that various lifestyle factors and health conditions might explain the relationship between obesity and mental health.

However, when they studied this issue, they found that the link between higher body mass index (BMI) and poor mental health was independent of these factors.

The authors suggest that weight management measures targeted at the general public could help reduce the occurrence of depression.

To conduct their study, the team randomly selected 1,821 men and women between the ages of 46 and 73 years from a primary care center.

The Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) was used to determine if the participants were depressed.

The World Health Organization-Five (WHO-5) Well-Being Index was used to assess people’s well-being.

They then performed statistical analyses to look for relationships between the participants’ scores and their BMI and waist-height ratio.

Adjustments were made for demographics, lifestyle factors, and disease conditions.

The researchers found that both BMI and waist-height ratio were positively associated with depression scores in both men and women.

Also, higher BMI was linked with lower well-being. These associations held true even after they made adjustments.

Further, the strongest relationship between BMI and depression was in women.

Catherine Gervacio, a Registered Dietician and nutrition writer for Living.Fit, who was not involved in the study, said there are many reasons why a higher BMI might be linked with mental health issues, especially in women.

“One of the main reasons is social pressure and acceptance,” she explained.

The pressure to live up to people’s expectations about body image can contribute to stress, anxiety, and lower self-esteem, according to Gervacio.

“Society might be more judgmental towards women with higher BMI,” she added, “leading to increased stigma and potential negative effects on their psychological well-being, especially since there are many ads, commercials, and marketing materials showcasing women with thinner bodies, better looks, and almost-perfect physiques.”

Jesse Feder, a personal trainer, Registered Dietitian, and owner of The Dietitian Choice, agreed with Gervacio’s assessment, adding that women’s natural fat distribution pattern — in the hips, legs, and abdomen — tends to be stigmatized as unattractive.

“This can take a large toll on mental health as well,” he said.

Additionally, Feder noted that women go through hormonal shifts during their menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause.

“These hormonal changes can not only affect weight but self-image, confidence, and mental health.”

“The healthiest way [to lower your BMI] is to get a lifestyle plan that involves a personalized diet plan, exercise, and stress management,” said Gervacio.

She advises adopting a lifestyle that is sustainable in order to ensure that you are able to both achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

“Lifestyle changes also include stress management techniques to prevent emotional eating and achieve quality sleep, mindful eating to choose healthy foods and be able to do portion control, and consistent exercise with a combination of cardio and strength training,” said Gervacio.

While it’s a good idea to work with a nutritionist to craft a plan specific to your needs, Feder said the typical activity recommendation is to get around 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

Additionally, slow, progressive weight loss can be achieved by creating a daily caloric deficit of around 200-500 calories, he suggested.

“While it may not be as quick as some crash diets, this old-school method is tried and true and can help instill healthy lifelong habits along the way,” said Feder.

A new study has found that having a higher BMI is associated with more depression and less well-being in middle- and older-aged people, especially women.

Women might be affected more strongly due to the expectations that society places on them. Hormonal factors might also play a role.

To lower your BMI in a healthy way, it’s important to adopt a sustainable lifestyle that involves reducing stress, moving more, and losing weight gradually.