Increase in Depressive Symptoms Linked to Further Weight Gain in Overweight, Obesity

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For every increment increase in a participant’s usual score for depressive symptoms, investigators of a new study found weight increased a month later by 45g, only for participants with overweight and obesity.

Among individuals with overweight or obesity, an increase in depressive symptopms could lead to an uptick in bodyweight in the near future, according to a new study.1

Using data obtained from the Fenland COVID-19 app study, results of the study revealed an association between increased depressive symptoms and weight gain among individuals with overweight or obesity that was not present among individuals considered to be normal weight.

“People with a high BMI are already at greater risk from other health conditions, so this could potentially lead to a further deterioration in their health,” said lead investigator Julia Mueller, PhD, from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, United Kingdom, in a press release.1 “Monitoring and addressing depressive symptoms in individuals with overweight or obesity could help prevent further weight gain and be beneficial to both their mental and physical health.”

Led by Mueller, the study sought to investigate whether mental health variation was associated with weight a month later, whether associations between mental health and weight vary by participants characteristics such as age, sex, education, occupation, and baseline BMI, and whether weight is associated with worsened mental health.2

As part of the Participants completed digital questionnaires on mental wellbeing and bodyweight every month for 9 months using a mobile app. Each individual's symptoms of depression, anxiety, and perceived stress were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire, Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire, and Perceived Stress Scale, respectively. For the purpose of analysis, investigators defined overweight as a BMI between 25 to 29.9 kg/m2 and obesity as a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or greater.

Mean scores for participants were 4.7 for stress, 4.8 for depressive symptoms, and 4.9 for anxiety symptoms. The greatest scores among participants were 24 for depression, 21 for anxiety, and 40 for stress.

After conducting statistical modeling, the team found weight increased a month later by 45 g for every increment increase in an individual’s usual score for depressive symptoms. Investigators pointed out this correlates to a weight gain of 225 g for an increase of 5 to 10 in depressive symptoms score.

“Although the weight gain was relatively small, even small weight changes occurring over short periods of time can lead to larger weight changes in the long-term, particularly among those with overweight and obesity,” Mueller said in the press release.

Overweight individuals with increased depressive symptoms had a weight gain of 52 g and obese individuals had a weight gain of 71g. When examining the estimated difference in weight for each unit of exposure, investigators found the change in raw depressive symptom score was 0.027 (95% CI, 0.006 to 0.047) and the change in raw anxiety symptom score was 0.0013 (95% CI, -0.006 to 0.033).

Investigators also pointed out the findings did not indicate poor mental health as a cause or consequence of obesity, unlike the previous studies which supported the causality. According to investigators, the findings suggest the relationship between depressive symptoms and weight did not occur due to reverse causality. Of note, the team stated limitations of the study include limited generalizability and missing data from some participants.

“Our findings tentatively suggest that, if weight management interventions for adults with overweight/obesity monitor depressive symptoms over time and intervene when symptoms rise above their usual level, this may help prevent future weight gain,” the investigators wrote. “Using mobile phone technology, it is possible to collect data frequently over extended periods of time (as demonstrated in the present study) and use this to provide adaptive, context-specific support.”


  1. Feeling Depressed Linked to Short-Term Increase In Bodyweight, Study Finds. EurekAlert! January 10, 2024. Accessed January 10, 2024.
  2. Mueller, J, Ahern, A, Jones, R. The Relationship of Within-Individual and Between-Individual Variation In Mental Health With Bodyweight: An Exploratory Longitudinal Study. 2024. January 10, 2024.