The link between obesity and mental disorders

Study reveals women at higher risk for diseases compared to men.

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Obesity has been a significant global health issue on the rise in recent years. Not only does it contribute to various physical health problems, but research suggests that obesity also increases the risk of mental disorders throughout life. 

The relationship between obesity and mental health is complex and multifaceted, involving biological, psychological, and social factors. Understanding this connection is crucial for developing effective strategies to address the dual burden of obesity and mental health disorders, ultimately promoting overall well-being and quality of life.

Researchers at the Complexity Science Hub analyzed a population-wide national registry of inpatient hospitalizations in Austria from 1997 to 2014. The study aimed to assess the relative risks of comorbidities for obesity, focusing on identifying gender differences. Elma Dervic, a research team member, explains that their analysis revealed a clear link between obesity and a broad range of mental disorders across all age groups. 

These disorders included depression, nicotine addiction, psychosis, anxiety, eating disorders, and personality disorders. Michael Leutner from the Medical University of Vienna stresses the clinical importance of these findings, highlighting the need to raise awareness of psychiatric diagnoses in obese patients and to involve specialists early in the diagnostic process.

A new method developed by researchers has shed light on the sequence of illnesses associated with obesity. Elma Dervic, a member of the research team, explains that this method helped determine if there are any trends or typical patterns in the occurrence of diseases preceding and following an obesity diagnosis. 

The findings indicate that, except for the psychosis spectrum, obesity was likely the first diagnosis before the manifestation of psychiatric disorders.

Alexander Kautzky from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the Medical University Vienna clarifies that while psychopharmacological medications have been considered the cause of the association between mental disorders, obesity, and diabetes, this pattern is not supported by the data for depression or other psychiatric diagnoses. However, it remains unknown whether obesity directly affects mental health or if the early stages of psychiatric disorders are inadequately recognized.

The research findings revealed notable gender differences in the impact of obesity on various disorders. Surprisingly, women showed a higher risk for most disorders, excluding schizophrenia and nicotine addiction. While 16.66% of obese men were diagnosed with nicotine abuse disorder, the rate was lower in obese women at 8.58%. 

However, when it came to depression, obese women had almost three times the rate of diagnosed depressive episodes compared to non-obese women (13.3% obese; 4.8% non-obese). Obese men were also more likely to be affected by depression but at a lower rate than obese women (6.61% obese; 3.21% non-obese). These findings highlight the more significant impact of obesity on mental health issues in women compared to men.

Obesity is a widespread global health issue, affecting over 670 million people. Extensive research has demonstrated its association with metabolic disorders and severe cardio-metabolic complications such as diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia.

However, this recent study reveals that obesity often precedes severe mental diseases, highlighting its role as a multifaceted risk factor for various health problems. Particularly in young age groups, the impact of obesity on mental health is most pronounced. The researchers emphasize the urgent need for thorough screening of mental health issues in obese individuals to enable prevention and ensure timely and appropriate treatment.

In conclusion, obesity is a pleiotropic risk state for both metabolic and mental health issues across the lifespan. It has been extensively researched and linked to metabolic disorders and cardiovascular complications. It is now increasingly recognized as a precursor to severe mental disorders. 

The findings highlight the importance of comprehensive screening for mental health problems in obese individuals, particularly in younger age groups where the risk is most significant. Addressing obesity as a dual burden, targeting both physical and mental health is crucial for effective prevention and intervention strategies throughout life.

Journal Reference:

  1. Leutner, M., Dervic, E., Bellach,et al. Obesity is a pleiotropic risk state for metabolic and mental health throughout life. Translational Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1038/s41398-023-02447-w