Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Obesity and depression

In Brief

Obesity and depression

Obese people are more likely than average to be clinically depressed and anxious, according to a national survey, but only when they are also white and college educated.

In the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, nearly 10,000 Americans were asked to state their height and weight. Obesity was defined as a BMI (body mass index) greater than 30 — the equivalent of 186 pounds in a person 5 feet 6 inches tall.

In both sexes and all ethnic groups, and at all levels of education, obesity was correlated with a low risk of alcohol and drug abuse and addiction. Obese people of both sexes had a 20%–50% higher than average rate of various mood and anxiety disorders — but only because three-quarters of the people in the sample were white and about half had some college education. Obesity was unrelated to anxiety and depression in African Americans, Hispanics, and non-Hispanic whites who did not attend college.

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