Lingering effects: Past obesity can harm current mental health

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New research hints that a history of obesity could lead to poorer mental health in the present, even if an individual is no longer classified as obese.

This could subsequently heighten the risk of premature death, irrespective of a person’s current weight status. The study’s findings will be presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Dublin, Ireland.

The Hypothesis and Methodology

Dr. I Gusti Ngurah Edi Putra, from the University of Liverpool, UK, led the study.

He noted that previous research indicated individuals who lost weight and were no longer obese still feared stigmatization due to their past obesity.

This fear led to the hypothesis that past obesity could potentially have long-term psychological impacts, a theory known as ‘weight scarring’.

To test this theory, Dr. Putra and his team utilized data from two nationally representative US studies, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).

These datasets provided information on past and current weight, height, symptoms of depression, other psychological well-being indicators, and mortality.


The study’s results indicated a link between past obesity and a higher level of depressive symptoms.

Even among individuals no longer classified as obese, past obesity was connected with a broader range of psychological well-being issues, such as depressive symptoms, loneliness, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness.

Past obesity increased the risk of premature death by about 30%, irrespective of the individual’s current weight status.

This increased risk was partly attributed to the poorer psychological health associated with a history of obesity.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The preliminary findings suggest that obesity may leave psychological ‘scars’ that could heighten the risk of early death.

Dr. Putra advocates for providing psychological support to individuals with a history of obesity, even after they have lost weight, to potentially reduce the risk of future health problems.

However, he cautions that these preliminary findings are based on observational data, and thus can only identify associations, not causation.

He encourages further research to confirm and delve deeper into these findings.

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