A new study examined whether a person believing that they’re overweight increased their risk of depression.
People who believe that they are overweight are more likely to be depressed, even if they have a healthy body mass index (BMI), according to a recent scientific review.
For the review, published in the Clinical Psychological Review, researchers looked at 32 previous studies that had examined the link between mental health and weight. The researchers found that people who perceived themselves to be overweight were at a higher risk of depression, regardless of their actual weight status. This connection was observed in research populations from different countries around the world.
This study is important because it breaks down the fact that perception of weight—not just weight itself—can take a toll on mental health. Because people of a higher weight are generally stigmatized, people who believe they are overweight may worry that they will not fit in with their peers, and this in turn could contribute to depression.
“This fear of social devaluation resulting from perceiving oneself as being part of a stigmatized group may threaten core psychological needs of belonging and acceptance, and in turn damage mental health,” wrote the team of researchers led by Ashleigh Haynes of the University of Liverpool, according to the New Scientist.
The researchers found that people who believed they were overweight consistently had poorer mental health regardless of age, gender and actual weight classification.
The data suggested “that the detrimental effect of overweight [sic] on mental health is largely dependent on whether or not a person identifies as overweight,” the researchers wrote.
People who viewed themselves as overweight were also more likely to struggle with suicidality, the research revealed.
Researchers pointed out that body perception may not be the cause of depression. Alternatively, being depressed could make people see their bodies as overweight even when they are not.
Being overweight and being depressed have been closely linked. Nearly 43% of people with depression are obese. Adults with depression are more likely to be obese than adults without depression.
Another study found that people who are obese have a 55% increased chance of developing depression. In that case, the study authors found that the conditions can exacerbate each other.
“We found bidirectional associations between depression and obesity: obese persons had a 55% increased risk of developing depression over time, whereas depressed persons had a 58% increased risk of becoming obese,” the study authors wrote.