Body mass, depressive symptoms and menopausal status: an examination of the "Jolly Fat" hypothesis

Womens Health Issues. May-Jun 2005;15(3):145-51. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2005.02.002.


Purpose: Estrogens are linked with depression due to their ability to alter the function of the serotonin neural systems. We hypothesize that postmenopausal women should have a higher degree of depressive symptoms than premenopausal women. Further, because estrogen levels in postmenopausal women positively correlate with body fat, we hypothesize that there is an inverse relationship between body fat and depressive symptoms among postmenopausal women.

Methods: We enrolled 1156 Polish urban women aged 45 to 64 in a cross-sectional study. Depressive symptoms were assessed by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D) scale. Menopausal status and education level was assessed by a standardized questionnaire.

Main findings: Postmenopausal women had higher mean CES-D scores of depressive symptoms than premenopausal women (14.4 versus 13.2 respectively, p = .018). Both among pre- and postmenopausal women, those with higher education had lower scores of depressive symptoms. In addition, in postmenopausal women with lower education an inverse relationship was observed between body mass index (BMI) and depressive symptoms: a higher BMI was associated with a lower score of depressive symptoms (p = .009). Such a relationship was not present among premenopausal women or women who were postmenopausal but better educated.

Conclusions: This study indicates that menopausal status is related to differences in the degree of occurrence of depressive symptoms. Our results support the "Jolly Fat" hypothesis for postmenopausal women with lower education, namely, a higher BMI is associated with lower score of depressive symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Body Weight
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / complications*
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / metabolism
  • Educational Status*
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Poland / epidemiology
  • Postmenopause / metabolism
  • Premenopause / metabolism
  • Social Environment
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Estrogens