Skip to content

Journal Article

Association of adiposity and mental health functioning across the lifespan: findings from Understanding Society (The UK Household Longitudinal Study)


Publication date

05 Feb 2016


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.

Published in








Medicine, Well Being, Health, and Life Course Analysis


Open Access article; © 2016 Davillas et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Research home

Research home


Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest