Background: Obesity is a well-known cause of cardiovascular disease burden and premature death, but effects on depressive symptoms remain equivocal. Depressive symptoms may be more common among the obese individuals who perceive themselves as overweight, rather than those who perceive themselves as having an acceptable weight. Our aim was to determine whether weight status and weight perceptions are independently associated with psychological distress.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study using data from the Australian National Health Survey 2004–2005 (N=17 253). All variables were collected by self-report. Adjusted multinomial logistic regression analysis was conducted to generate prevalence odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) for medium (Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10) scores of 20–29) and high (K10 scores of 30–50) psychological distress (compared with K10 scores of 10–19 as the reference) associated with weight status (standard body mass index (BMI) cutoffs for underweight, overweight and obesity vs normal weight), weight perception (perceived underweight and overweight vs acceptable weight) and weight misperception (incorrect with BMI vs correct with BMI) adjusting for numerous important covariates.
Results: Overweight and underweight perception increased the odds of medium (40 and 50%) and high (50 and 120%) psychological distress, whereas weight status and weight misperception were not associated with psychological distress in adjusted analysis. Gender, alcohol consumed per week and post-school education were not significant covariates (at P<0.10 level).
Conclusions: Overweight and underweight perception rather than weight status or weight misperception are significant risk factors associated with medium and high psychological distress prevalence and effects appear to be uniform for men and women. Well-designed prospective studies are still needed to determine whether weight perceptions cause psychological distress, and if so, whether symptoms are significantly reduced following effective intervention.