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Weight change increases the odds of psychological distress in middle age: bidirectional analyses from the Whitehall II Study

  • Anika Knüppel (a1), Martin J. Shipley (a1), Clare H. Llewellyn (a1) and Eric J. Brunner (a1)



Mood disorders and adiposity are major public health challenges. Few studies have investigated the bidirectional association of weight and waist circumference (WC) change with psychological distress in middle age, while taking into account the potential U-shape of the association. The aim of this study was to examine the bidirectional association between psychological distress and categorical change in objectively measured weight and WC.


We analysed repeated measures (up to 17 522 person-observations in adjusted analyses) of psychological distress, weight and WC from the Whitehall II cohort. Participants were recruited at age 35–55 and 67% male. Psychological distress was assessed using the General Health Questionnaire. We used random-effects regressions to model the association between weight and WC changes and psychological distress, with and without a 5-year lag period.


Psychological distress was associated with weight and WC gain over the subsequent 5 years but not the second 5-year period. Weight gain and loss were associated with increased odds for incident psychological distress in models with and without time-lag [odds ratio (OR) for incident psychological distress after 5-year time-lag: loss 1.20, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.00–1.43; gain>5% 1.20, 95% CI 1.02–1.40]. WC changes were only associated with psychological distress in models without time-lag (OR for incident psychological distress: loss 1.29, 95% CI 1.02–1.64; gain>5% 1.33, 95% CI 1.11–1.58).


Weight gain and loss increase the odds for psychological distress compared with stable weight over subsequent 10 years. In contrast, the association between psychological distress and subsequent weight and WC changes was limited to the first 5 years of follow-up.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Anika Knüppel, E-mail:


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