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Is there a link betweeen obesity and mental health?

May is the mental health month and as we continue to dymystify the stigma around mental health, let’s also understand the associated factors, and take responsibility of the modifiable factors such as obesity.

According to the recently released 2020 Global Nutrition Report, one in every 3 people is obese.

Obesity as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) has reached epidemic proportions across the globe, with more countries experiencing the double burden of malnutrition where undernutrition co-exists with overweight, obesity and other diet related non-communicable diseases; particularly in the low and middle income countries.

Also on the rise are mental health disorders, which account for 14% of the global burden of diseases, with majority of the people affected coming from low income countries.

Could there be a link between obesity and mental health?

Although research has not conclusively explored this area, multiple cross-sectional studies have shown a link between obesity and depression.

Obese adults have been shown to be at a higher risk of developing depression.

A similar observation has also been made among adolescents where also depressed adolescents are at a higher risk of developing obesity.

At the same time, depression has been shown to disproportionately affect obese female and vice versa.

According to research, hormonal and biological changes experienced in females during puberty increase their risk of developing obesity which persists in their adulthood. At the same time, women are inherently more conscious of their body image. These coupled with societal pressures of ideal body image further affects females’ self-esteem and body image, further increasing the risk of both depression and obesity.

Both obesity and mental health disorders are also highly stigmatized.

Studies have shown that stigma is associated with physiological and psychological effects including decreased self-esteem, increased anxiety and depression, mood disorders and can result in eating disorders, avoidance of both physical activity and medical care. These effects of stigma can be particularly severe in children and young people.

At a time when we are facing two major conditions that are responsible for disability, we need to end the stigma and promote health.

Encourage and support one another achieve health.


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Christine Nderitu

As a licensed Nutritionist and Public Health Practitioner, Christine, helps people lead healthy lifestyles through education and behaviour change practices that are simple and practical. Her area of expertise lies not just in nutrition management but in health education and promotion in HIV/AIDS, Adolescent Health, Maternal and Child Health as well as Non-Communicable Diseases, which she has engaged in for a decade. She is also a columnist in a leading local Daily. Christine has a keen interest in Non-Communicable Diseases prevention and control. She feels that the world needs more stories that celebrate and normalize desired (good) behaviour, and humanity. “We have many preventable and often manmade public health issues today.”