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Even with Education, Obese Women Are at Risk of Depression

Even with higher education, women with a body mass index (BMI) of 30-34.9 (obese I) have double the risk of depression compared with women of normal weight and same educational attainment, according to a new study conducted by a sociologist at Rice University.

The study was published in the journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice.

The researchers used the standard weight categories: normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9), overweight (BMI 25-29.9), obese I (30-34.9), obese II (35-39.9) and obese III (BMI greater than 39.9). They found similar results for obese II and III participants; however, not enough participants were available for statistical validation. The BMI classifications are related to body-fat levels and predict the likelihood of developing obesity–related health problems.

“Previous research has shown an association of depression and obesity with low education, but we’re showing it also exists with women who have higher education as well,” said Ashley Kranjac, lead author and Rice postdoctoral fellow in population health in Rice’s Department of Sociology and Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research. “I was surprised by the finding. Usually higher education is associated with all the good things, like higher income, better neighborhoods, greater access to health care and better overall health, and you’d never think education and obesity combined could have this effect on mental health.”

The study involved a random sample of 1,928 healthy women ages 35-80. Researchers used New York State Department of Motor Vehicle records and information from the Health Care Finance Association to identify potential participants.

“Our study provides evidence that in the examination of ongoing strain and cumulative stressors leading to depressive symptoms in women’s lives, considering weight status and other factors concurrently may be informative,” Kranjac said. “What this means in terms of treatment programs for clinicians is that they need to consider education and obesity and depressive symptoms in combination when considering treatment options. You can’t think of these things in isolation, because they don’t work independently of each other.”

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