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Excess body fat ‘increases risk of depression’

Study warns that stigmatising obesity could increase risk even further

Carrying just 10 kilograms of excess body fat increases the risk of depression by 17%, researchers have warned.

The study, carried out by researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark, found that the more fat someone has, the greater the probability of developing depression.

The location of the fat made no difference to the risk of depression, which according to study author Dr Søren Dinesen Østergaard, suggests it is the psychological consequences of being overweight or obese which lead to the increased risk of depression and not the direct biological effect of the fat.

“If the opposite was true we would have seen that fat located centrally on the body increased the risk the most, as it has the most damaging effect in biological terms,” he explained.

Prior studies have predominantly used body mass index (BMI) to measure obesity, but this does not take build and muscle mass into account.

In the latest study, reported by the Spectator, the researchers analysed data from two large genetic data sets: the UK Biobank, which contains data on the correlation between genetic variants and physical measurements (including body fat mass distributed around parts of the body); and the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, which contains information on the correlation between genetic variants and depression.

Østergaard said the findings are particularly significant in light of the fact that almost 40% of the world’s adult population is overweight.

“As it appears to be the psychological consequences of obesity, such as a negative body image and low self-esteem, that is the main driving force behind the increased risk of depression, society’s efforts to combat obesity must not stigmatise, as this will probably increase the risk of depression even further,” he warned.

The study was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.