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Association of Adiposity and Mental Health Functioning across the Lifespan: Findings from Understanding Society (The UK Household Longitudinal Study)

Apostolos Davillas (), Michaela Benzeval and Meena Kumari

PLOS ONE, 2016, vol. 11, issue 2, 1-19

Abstract: Background: Evidence on the adiposity-mental health associations is mixed, with studies finding positive, negative or no associations, and less is known about how these associations may vary by age. Objective: To examine the association of adiposity -body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC) and percentage body fat (BF%)- with mental health functioning across the adult lifespan. Methods: Data from 11,257 participants (aged 18+) of Understanding Society: the UK Household Longitudinal Study (waves 2 and 3, 5/2010-7/2013) were employed. Regressions of mental health functioning, assessed by the Mental Component Summary (MCS-12) and the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), on adiposity measures (continuous or dichotomous indicators) were estimated adjusted for covariates. Polynomial age-adiposity interactions were estimated. Results: Higher adiposity was associated with poorer mental health functioning. This emerged in the 30s, increased up to mid-40s (all central adiposity and obesity-BF% measures) or early 50s (all BMI measures) and then decreased with age. Underlying physical health generally accounted for these associations except for central adiposity, where associations remained statistically significant from the mid-30s to50s. Cardiovascular, followed by arthritis and endocrine, conditions played the greatest role in attenuating the associations under investigation. Conclusions: We found strong age-specific patterns in the adiposity-mental health functioning association that varied across adiposity measures. Underlying physical health had the dominant role in attenuating these associations. Policy makers and health professionals should target increased adiposity, mainly central adiposity, as it is a risk factor for poor mental health functioning in those aged between mid-30s to 50 years.

Date: 2016
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DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148561

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