Obese, Underweight More Troubled

September 22, 2010

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The more than one in four American adults who are obese are significantly more likely than those who are normal weight or overweight to report having been diagnosed with depression and experiencing stress, worry, anger, and sadness, according to new findings from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

Obese and Underweight Have Most Emotional Difficulties
Carrying some extra weight does not appear to have the same effect as being obese, as negative emotion levels among those who are overweight are about the same as among those who are a normal weight.


On the other hand, not weighing enough does link to higher levels of negative emotions. Underweight Americans’ emotional health is about on par or slightly worse than that of obese individuals, underscoring the clear benefits of maintaining a relatively healthy weight. At 1.7%, however, underweight Americans make up a small percentage of the adult population in the US.

The disparity in depression diagnoses is even more severe, with 23.2% of obese Americans reporting having been diagnosed with the condition compared with 14.3% of those who are a normal weight reporting the same. Again in this instance, depression levels are not measurably higher among overweight Americans, but reach 19.1% among those who are underweight.

Obese, Underweight Less Positive by Smaller Margins
Obese Americans also report less happiness and enjoyment compared to those who are normal or overweight, although a large majority in each group report experiencing these positive emotions. Underweight Americans again report similar levels of positive emotions as obese Americans, while those who are overweight are similar to normal weight individuals.


Connection Clear, Cause Not
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index data reveal a clear connection between obesity and increased negative emotions, higher rates of diagnosed depression, and decreased positive emotions/experiences. However, Gallup says the direction of the relationship is not clear.

It is possible that Americans with a history of diagnosed depression or who are more worried or stressed are more likely to become obese. But it could also be that those who are obese experience a decrease in their emotional well-being as a consequence of their personal weight situation. Gallup analysis indicates that most likely, the results reflect a combination of both possibilities.

Obesity Higher among Middle-Aged, African-Americans
Middle-aged and African-American adults are more likely to be obese than Americans of other ages or ethnic groups, according to other data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

Roughly three in 10 Americans aged 45 to 64 are obese, more than in any other age group. Among Americans aged 18 to 29, 18.2% are obese. This shoots up 10 percentage points to 28.3% among 30-to-44-year-olds. Obesity then creeps slightly higher among middle-aged Americans to 30.8% before dropping off to 24.7% among seniors 65 and older.

No matter their race, middle-aged Americans are consistently the most likely to be obese when compared with those in other age groups. Also, black and Hispanic Americans within every age group are more obese than Americans overall, while whites and Asians are below the national average.

About the Data: Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 1- Sept. 14, 2010, with a random sample of more than 250,187 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.


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