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The Unusual Explanation That Could Be Behind Your Increased Risk Of Dying Early Even After Losing Weight

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The Strange Reason that Might Contribute to Heightened Risk of Premature Death Despite Weight Loss, According to a New Study

The State of Obesity 2022: Advancing Policies for a Healthier America report reveals a concerning trend: forty percent of American adults are affected by obesity, and these rates continue to rise across the nation and among various population groups. These persistent increases highlight that obesity is influenced by a combination of societal, biological, genetic, and environmental factors, often extending beyond individual control.

Tackling obesity is crucial due to its association with a wide range of diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, sleep apnea, and certain cancers.

During the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) held in Dublin, Ireland (17-20 May), a noteworthy study was presented, suggesting a potential psychological impact of previous obesity, commonly referred to as “scarring.” The research indicates that individuals who have experienced obesity in the past may face poorer mental health outcomes, which could increase their risk of premature mortality, regardless of their current weight status.

In earlier research, it was observed that certain individuals who successfully shed excess weight and no longer met the criteria for obesity still experienced concerns about being stigmatized due to their previous obesity status. Building upon these findings, the authors of the recent study put forward a hypothesis that suggests a lasting psychological impact of prior obesity, which persists even after individuals have transitioned out of the obesity classification.

The team conducted a study using data from two nationally representative US studies to investigate the relationship between a person’s history of obesity and their current mental health, regardless of their current weight status. They were also interested in understanding whether the psychological effects of past obesity could explain the association between obesity and premature death.

The researchers gathered data from two sources: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which involved 29,047 individuals, and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which included 11,998 individuals. These datasets provided information on participants’ past and current weight, height, symptoms of depression, other psychological well-being indicators (in the case of HRS), and mortality.

“We have tested this novel ‘weight scarring’ hypothesis” and found that individuals with a history of obesity exhibited higher levels of depressive symptoms compared to those without such a history, as evidenced by their responses to questions about symptoms of depression. This association held true for both NHANES and HRS participants.

Moreover, in the HRS dataset, past obesity was linked to various indicators of psychological well-being, including a composite index that measured impaired psychological well-being. This index combined several factors such as depressive symptoms, loneliness, anxiety, and hopelessness. Importantly, these associations were independent of the participants’ current weight status.

The correlation between previous obesity and psychological well-being has been consistently observed across various studies, even among individuals who are no longer classified as obese. This suggests that past obesity may have a lasting psychological impact.

Having a history of obesity increases the risk of premature death by approximately 30% (specifically, 31% in NHANES and 34% in HRS), regardless of an individual’s current weight status. Importantly, this increased risk is independent of their present weight.

This association can be attributed, in part, to the poorer psychological health experienced by those with a history of obesity. These individuals are more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression and have impaired psychological well-being. Consequently, the researchers propose that the reduced lifespan associated with past obesity can be partially attributed to the psychological consequences of the condition.

The results of the study “suggest that obesity may be psychologically ‘scarring’ and that these psychological ‘scars’ may increase the risk of an early death,” comments Dr. Putra.

“Ensuring people with obesity receive psychological support, even after experiencing weight loss, may reduce the risk of subsequent ill health.”

“It is important to note that these preliminary findings, which are yet to be published, are based on observational data and so we cannot establish causation, only associations.  Further research confirming these findings is now needed.”

Image Credit: Getty

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