Obesity Increases Risk of Mental Disorders in All Age Groups

Being obese significantly increases the chances of also developing mental disorders. 

“We analyzed a population-wide national registry of inpatient hospitalizations in Austria from 1997 to 2014 in order to determine the relative risks of comorbidities in obesity and identify statistically significant sex differences,” explains Elma Dervic of the Complexity Science Hub. Consequently, it became evident that an obesity diagnosis enhances the likelihood of a wide range of mental disorders across all age groups. “From a clinical point of view, these results emphasize the need to raise awareness of psychiatric diagnoses in obese patients and, if necessary, to consult specialists at an early stage of diagnosis,” says Michael Leutner of the Medical University of Vienna.

“In order to find out which illness typically appeared prior and subsequently to the obesity diagnosis, we had to develop a new method,” explains Dervic. 

In case of all co-diagnoses, with the exception of the psychosis spectrum, obesity was in all likelihood the first diagnosis made prior to the manifestation of a psychiatric diagnosis. “

Surprisingly, the researchers found significant gender differences for most disorders, with women showing an increased risk for all disorders except schizophrenia and nicotine addiction.

Since this study now also shows that obesity often precedes severe mental disorders, the findings underscore its importance as a pleiotropic risk factor for health problems of all kinds. For this reason, thorough screening for mental health problems in obese patients is urgently needed to facilitate prevention or ensure that appropriate treatment can be given, so the researchers conclude.


Michael Leutner, Elma Dervic, Luise Bellach, Peter Klimek, Stefan Thurner, Alexander Kautzky. Obesity as pleiotropic risk state for metabolic and mental health throughout life. Translational Psychiatry, 2023; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41398-023-02447-w

Complexity Science Hub Vienna. “Obesity increases risk of mental disorders throughout life.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 May 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/05/230530125412.htm>.

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