Understanding the psychological legacy of past obesity

Older lady looks out window thoughtfully

Researchers from the University of Liverpool in collaboration with researchers in the UK, Ireland and North America have led on a study to better understand the potential long-term consequences of previously having had obesity. In a recently published paper, the University of Liverpool team found that obesity may be psychologically scarring and is also linked to increased risk of mortality independently of current weight.

The global prevalence of obesity has nearly tripled in the last four decades (1975–2016) and is now a major public health crisis. Using a sample size of more than 40,000 participants from two nationally representative studies, the new research offers new insights into the potential long-term impacts of obesity on mental health and life-expectancy.

Dr I Gusti Ngurah Edi Putra and Professor Eric Robinson from the University of Liverpool worked with Dr Michael Daly, Maynooth University, Professor Angelina Sutin, Florida State University, and Professor Andrew Steptoe, University College London to develop the paper published in BMC Medicine. It suggests that previous periods of living with obesity may be associated with long-term ‘scarring’ consequences on mental health, and there may be a psychological legacy of obesity even among people who previously had obesity but do not anymore.

Dr I Gusti Ngurah Edi Putra from the Institute of Population Health said: “This paper offers valuable insight into the potential long-term psychological impact on those who have experienced obesity during their lives. Given the increased number of people who are developing obesity at early ages and people actively attempting to lose weight, a history of obesity is now more common, and the findings of the present study suggest this history of obesity may be associated with the development and/or persistence of depressive symptoms and impaired well-being. Our findings suggest that the psychological burden of obesity may be larger and have longer term consequences than previously assumed.

The paper, ‘The psychological legacy of past obesity and early mortality: evidence from two longitudinal studies’ was published in BMC Medicine (DOI: 10.1186/s12916-023-03148-3).