New research shows link between BMI and depression

New research by academics at the University of Leicester has found that your risk of depression increases with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) – which is bad news for those who have put on the dreaded ‘corona-stone’ during lockdown.

Using the primary care records of more than half a million overweight or obese UK adults, the study found that the risk of depression, measured by increased prescription of anti-depressants, increased in line with a higher BMI by as much as 67%. For those with a BMI between of 25‐29 (overweight) there was a 27% increased risk of depression, however for those with a BMI above 30 (obese) the risk increased to 55%, compared to those with a healthy weight.

Recent research indicates that two-thirds of people in the UK have put on more than half a stone of weight since March, after initial Government advice recommended avoiding all unnecessary trips outside during national lockdown. Increased weight has been identified as a risk factor for coronavirus and has underpinned the Government’s new anti-obesity strategy.

Freya Tyrer, lead author and Research Fellow in Epidemiology at the University of Leicester said: “Obesity is a leading cause of death globally. While the relationship between obesity and depression is complex, evidence has suggested that being overweight or obese increases the risk of being diagnosed with depression.

“Despite the high rates of depression in people with obesity in the UK, there is no specific guidance on the management of depression in people that are overweight or obese – something which is urgently required.

“We would like to see tailored guidance on antidepressant prescribing and services that focus on both mood and behaviours to improve outcomes for these individuals.”

Dr Kamlesh Khunti, Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester is a co-author of the study. He said: “It comes as little surprise that living with excess weight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

“Our previous research has shown that combination of obesity in particular in ethnic minority populations may place individuals at a significantly higher-risk of contracting COVID-19.”

Findings revealed that the risk of depression was highest in men aged 40-59 years that were severely obese (BMI over 40), for those in the youngest age group (aged 18‐29 years) and twice as high for women compared to men. This was attributed to more women gaining an earlier diagnosis of depression than men, as greater numbers of women were more likely to visit their local GP.

The article was published in the journal Obesity.