Study finds obesity more likely to cause depression in white women

Shervin Assari, a research investigator from the University Department of Psychiatry and the School of Public Health, conducted a study about obesity and depression.

Shervin Assari, a research investigator from the University Department of Psychiatry and the School of Public Health, conducted a study about obesity and depression.
Jeremy Mitnick/Daily
Monday, January 23, 2017 - 6:39pm

Of Black and white Americans, sustained depression that comes as a result of being obese is most common in white women, according to a new University of Michigan study.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity in the United States has become a major public health concern among all races and genders, with more than one-third of all adults affected.

Yet while previous research indicated depression as result of obesity was common among all races, new University research shows between the two races, obesity only positively correlates with depression for white women, particularly those over the age of 50.

The study, which was conducted by Shervin Assari, a research investigator from the University Department of Psychiatry and the School of Public Health, was aimed at exploring the effects of a high body mass index on depression across race and gender. Moreover, Assari’s study looked to find causations between the effects of sustained physical activity and depression in the different groups.

Assari used data from a University-produced Health and Retirement Study, which took a representative sample of Americans over the age of 50 from 2004-2010 to measure depressive symptoms across individuals who presented BMIs that are considered to be obese. The research focused only on Black and white Americans to make generalizations about both populations.

Assari explained his research helps show that sustained psychological effects from sustained physical conditions are not mutually exclusive from one’s race and gender.

“Medical education has assumed that every risk factor is constant among groups,” Assari said. “My research shows that this is true when all groups are pooled together, but when you divide the groups by their history, the effects of risk factors are different.”

Assari noted the presentation of depression was directly correlated to the individual’s personal history and living conditions. One example Assari used was that many Black men grew up very differently from white women.

“The history of Black men, for example, which is filled with exposure, is extremely different from that of white females,” he said. “Because of their norms, white females cannot afford to be obese, unless they are depressed because of the mental pressure associated with their obesity. On the other hand, Black men cannot afford to be that sensitive because of all the exposure that comes from factors such as police, unemployment, discrimination and racism. They don’t share the same luxury of being depressed by their obesity.”

The conclusion Assari presents brings a new perspective into how health intervention should be effectively handled for individuals of different races and genders.

Julia Carter, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, worked on the research under the mentorship of Assari as part of the University’s Summer Immersion Program. Carter discussed the importance of the research in terms of how it could change health and psychological treatment.

“The significance of this research is that the association between sustained BMI and depression is not uniform across race and gender,” Carter said. “Therefore, health care and programs such as weight loss interventions and psychological care should be tailored to the target population in order to be more effective.”

This study is related to previous work conducted by Assari in 2016 in which he concluded that education is a risk factor for depression in Black men. While education is often thought to bring happiness and strong-mindedness to many people, it has a different effect on the psychological well-beings of Black men.

This recent study ties in with Assari’s larger research project aimed at portraying the resilience of different social groups and the health effects associated with different risk factors.