The mental toll of being overweight: Having a positive outlook and a healthy BMI often go hand-in-hand

A recent study has shown that people who manage to keep their weight down have the most probability of keeping their spirits up.

Researchers from the University of Michigan (U-M) and Fudan University in Shanghai, China concluded that body mass index (BMI) has an effect on physical and mental health – especially among college students, who go through everyday bouts of anxiety and depression and often neglect to exercise and devote time to physical self-care.

According to U-M School of Kinesiology associate professor of health and fitness Weiyun Chen, both a positive outlook in life and a proper BMI are essential to having good health.

The researchers asked 925 participating students to rate four indicators of psychological well-being: hope, gratitude, life satisfaction, and subjective happiness. They also calculated these students’ BMI based on self-reported body weight and height. The researchers further queried the students regarding their sleep quality, and whether or not they frequently feel healthy, energized, worthless, fidgety, depressed, or anxious.

Chen says that as a whole, the four psychological variables and BMI contribute to 41 percent of the total variance in health, with subjective happiness having the most impact, followed by hope, and then BMI.

Chen says that she did not expect that a lot of Chinese college students would rate themselves healthy and happy, especially since a ton of pressure is placed on them on a day-to-day basis. However, she says she can understand that this might be because Chinese schools put an emphasis on well-being.

“They have structured, organized physical educations classes. They realized that emphasizing only academics isn’t good for overall health, and that they needed to emphasize the wellness part,” says Chen.

In America, things are not the same. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two out of three adults are overweight or obese, and that 17 percent of young people between the ages of two and 19 can be called obese.

“Over the past 20 years, the United States has shrunk physical education in elementary school and in college. In China, especially in the past decade, they have started to emphasize physical education, and they are taking a holistic, whole person approach,” Chen says, noting the need for universities to create wellness programs and centers that integrate body, mind, and spirit.

The study which is titled “Association of psychological well-being and BMI with physical and mental health among college students” and which was published in the Medical Journal of Scientific and Technical Research has some limiting qualities.

First, the students who were studied all came from one university for each of the two countries, thereby considering only the data from U-M and Fudan University which may not be the truth for other students in other schools. Second, the research design prevented establishing causal effects; and third, the study did not account for differences in gender.

Watching out for obesity should start early

The threat of obesity is not only being faced by adults nowadays, but young children as well. (Related: Junk food giants form “task force” that claims to combat child obesity.)

“For the first time, in England, the number of children leaving primary school overweight or obese has hit 200,000. Right now in a class of 30, the odds are that seven children will be overweight or obese when they start school. By the time they leave for secondary school, 10 of them will be in this category,” says Cancer Research UK expert in cancer prevention, Professor Linda Bauld.

“An obese child is five times more likely to stay obese into adulthood. If you’re an obese adult, you’re more at risk of having serious health conditions, including cancer,” Bauld adds.

To help prevent your child from becoming obese, Nuffield Health senior physiologist Terry Austin advises: “Look into local parks, which are free and organized up and down the country. You could even enter a charity event, such as Race For Life or Sport Relief 5 km. Volunteer to help neighbors or friends with their garden or car washing, and pledge to buy ‘active’ Christmas presents for each other, such as exercise clothing, skipping ropes, a tennis racquet, or Frisbee. Set two-hour limits for technology, including phones, iPads, and TV, to encourage you all to be active.”

Experts say that aside from ensuring that your children get physical exercise, it is a must to provide them with healthy food too.

“Your child is still growing and developing, so they will need a well-balanced diet to get all the nutrients they need. Start by making sure there’s a regular pattern of balanced meals, including plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain starchy carbohydrates and protein foods like beans, fish, lean meat, or eggs. To begin with, rather than cut down on everything, try just limiting the extras that are nice but not necessary – sweets, chocolates, sugary drinks,” says nutritionist Katherine Hale, National Charity Partnership prevention program manager.

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