Relationship between BMI and emotion-handling capacity in an adult Finnish population: The Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966

PLoS One. 2018 Sep 26;13(9):e0203660. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0203660. eCollection 2018.


Background: Alexithymia, a difficulty in identifying and expressing emotions, has been associated with obesity and eating disorders in small-scale cross-sectional studies. Here, we assess the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and alexithymia in a large cohort of free-living Finnish adults over a 15-year period.

Methods: Participants were drawn from the Northern Finnish Birth Cohort 1966 (NFBC1966). The 20-Item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) was used as a measure of alexithymia and was completed at the age of 31 years (31y: n = 4841), and 46 years (46y: n = 5404). BMI was recorded at both time points. Where data at both time points were available (n = 3274), the relationship between changes in BMI and TAS-20 over this time period was also investigated.

Results: BMI was significantly and positively associated with TAS-20 score (p<0.0001, both at 31 years and at 46 years of ages). The association remained statistically significant after adjustment for potential confounders (sex, marital status and several socio-economic indicators). In individuals who experienced the greatest change in BMI (in either direction) over the 15-year period, there was a modest mean increase in TAS-20 score.

Conclusions: Our data revealed that TAS-20 score was correlated with and co-varied with body mass status. We suggest that future clinical research should consider the role of alexithymia in obesity. Further investigation of this relationship is warranted to ensure that the needs of obese subjects with undiagnosed alexithymia are considered in the design of weight management programmes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms / complications*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales

Grant support

NFBC1966 received financial support from the Academy of Finland [project grants 104781, 120315, 129269, 1114194, 24300796], University Hospital Oulu, Biocenter, University of Oulu, Finland [75617], and the Medical Research Council, UK. The program is currently being funded by the H2020-633595 DynaHEALTH action (to SS) and academy of Finland EGEA-project [285547]. The Section of Endocrinology and Investigative Medicine is funded by grants from the Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), an Integrative Mammalian Biology (IMB) Capacity Building Award, an FP7- HEALTH- 2009- 241592 EuroCHIP grant and is supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre Funding Scheme. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health. The first author, NHR, is also funded by MARA [Majlis Amanah Rakyat]. SS, LAM, SKK, JM and MRJ have received funding from the DynaHEALTH European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement [No 633595]. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.