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3 September 2013
Obesity linked to improved mental health

While physical health deteriorates when weight is gained, mental well-being seems to improve, say researchers in Germany, who discovered that the effect is especially striking in women. The surprising correlation, reported in the International Journal of Public Health, could offer valuable insights for preventive strategies in the fight against obesity.

The researchers, from Helmholtz Zentrum (Munich), evaluated data from the population-based longitudinal KORA study on the association between body weight and health-related quality of life. Over a period of seven years, the weight of more than 3000 people was measured, the body-mass index (BMI) was calculated and the health-related quality of life was assessed on the basis of a standardized questionnaire.

Researchers Rolf Holle and Michael Laxy discovered, somewhat predictably, that weight gain leads to a deterioration in physical health. Surprisingly, however, female study participants experienced improved mental quality of life as their weight increased. The result was observed even in women who were already overweight when the study began.

"The results show that the influence of body weight on physical and mental health is complex," Holle noted. "However, the understanding of these associations is crucial for developing medically effective and cost-effective strategies to prevent and manage obesity. The challenge is to prevent weight gain and its harmful health consequences, such as diabetes, while simultaneously structuring [weight loss] programs in such a way that they counteract impairments in mental well-being. In this context, gender-specific approaches should be considered."

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Source: International Journal of Public Health

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