In yet another example of the inseparable link between mental and physical health, medical experts are noting the increase in depression among people who are obese, especially as they age.

Depression affects 10 to 25 percent of population in the United States and often goes hand in hand with anxiety and other mental health disorders. At the same time, 25 to 30 percent of Americans are obese. Obesity is linked to a host of other medical problems as well, including cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes.

Depression and Obesity

Researchers have demonstrated that people with chronic or repeated episodes of depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems are more likely to become obese. In one study, researchers followed a large group of people (who were not obese at the start of the study) for almost two decades. Individuals with symptoms of one or more mental health disorders were three times more likely by the end of the study to be obese. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that, in 2006, people with current or lifetime depression were 33 to 35 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, and obesity.

The Reason

Depressed individuals are more likely to become obese because of physiological changes in their hormones and immune system and lack of physical exercise. They are also less likely to eat well.

The association goes both ways. Rates of obesity are twice as high in people with depression. Obese people deal with weight-related stigmas and discrimination, which affects their self-esteem and sense of self worth. They are also less likely to be physically active, which is a strong predictor of depression. Obese individuals are more likely to overeat, especially foods that are rich in fats and sugars.

Obesity is also affecting mental health indirectly by triggering an epidemic of type 2 diabetes. The link between obesity and diabetes is indisputable. Diabetes is a serious illness that puts people at very high risk for other debilitating health problems and complications, including blindness, kidney failure, lower limb amputations, heart disease, and depression. In a study of the socioeconomic effect of obesity and diabetes in New York City, for example, diabetic New Yorkers were almost twice as likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders.

Exercise and stress-relieving activities both help ease depression and anxiety and reduce the likelihood of becoming obese.