People with obesity or overweight who experience an increase in depression go on to put on more weight, a study has indicated.

The link between worsening depression and subsequent weight gain a month later was only seen among people with existing overweight or obesity.

Researchers did not find any association between greater depression symptoms and more significant weight gain.

This latest study from the University of Cambridge sheds some light on the complex relationship between mental health and weight, a link that is still poorly understood.

First author Dr Julia Mueller, from Cambridge’s Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, said: “Overall, this suggests that individuals with overweight or obesity are more vulnerable to weight gain in response to feeling more depressed.

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.

“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.

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.”

Researchers recruited just over 2,000 people in Cambridgeshire, with participants answering questionnaires on their weight and mental health each month for a period of nine months during the pandemic.

The team used statistical modelling to evaluate whether having worse mental health was linked to weight gain a month later.

A key finding was that for every increase in a participant’s score for depression, their weight rose by 45g a month later.

Senior author Dr Kirsten Rennie from the MRC Epidemiology Unit said: “Apps on our phones make it possible for people to answer short questions at home more frequently and over extended periods of time, which provides much more information about their wellbeing.

“This technology could help us understand how changes in mental health influence behaviour among people with overweight or obesity and offer ways to develop timely interventions when needed.”

Read the full story in the journal PLOS ONE.

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