Overweight and depression

J Health Soc Behav. 1994 Mar;35(1):63-79.


Is being overweight distressing? If it is, is the distress due to negative appraisals by others, to the stresses of trying to fit norms of thinness by dieting, or to the health consequences of being overweight? If being overweight is stigmatizing, negative evaluations by others may be internalized as high levels of depression. This perspective predicts that being overweight has a direct effect on depression, and that the effect is greater in social groups where being overweight is less common, especially among women, Whites, younger people, the well-educated, and the well-to-do. Alternatively, overweight may not be distressing per se. Instead, attempting to fit norms of appearance that equate thinness with attractiveness by dieting is distressing. According to this perspective, the association between being overweight and depression is explained by dieting. Finally, this association may be due to the health consequences of being overweight. A random sample of 2,020 U.S. adults aged 18-90 were interviewed by telephone in 1990. Results showed that being overweight has no direct effect on depression in any social group except among the well-educated. Overweight persons are more likely to diet and to experience worse physical health, both of which are associated with depression. Combined, these explain the negative effects of being overweight on depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Image
  • Body Mass Index
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Diet, Reducing
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / diagnosis
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Sampling Studies
  • Social Perception
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology