, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 169-180

Are the fat more jolly?

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Does obesity affect mental health? Two waves of data from a panel study of community residents 50 years and older were used to investigate the association between obesity and eight indicators of mental health: happiness, perceived mental health, life satisfaction, positive affect, negative affect, optimism, feeling loved and cared for, and depression. For none of the eight mental health outcomes examined did we observe a protective effect for obesity. Either no association was observed between obesity and psychological functioning, or the obese were worse off. Using 1994-1999 prospective data, the obese were at increased risk for poorer mental health on five of the outcomes examined using bivariate analyses. However, controlling for mental health problems at baseline and using statistical controls for covariates, the increased relative risk was limited to depression. There has been sufficient disparity of results thus far to justify further research on this question.

This article is the revision of a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Behavioral Medicine, April 2000, Nashville, Tennessee. This research was supported in part by Grant No. 1R37AG11375 from the National Institute on Aging to Dr. George A. Kaplan and by the Prevention Health Services Block Grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.