Connecting Bipolar Disorder with Obesity

Connecting Bipolar Disorder with Obesity

Are Obesity and Bipolar Disorder related? In fact, studies show that individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder are at high risk for being overweight and or obese (McElroy & Keck, 2012). In an 86,028 sample study done by McElroy and Keck, data support the idea that bipolar patients had a higher rate of obesity in comparison to those without bipolar. In addition, medical issues such as being overweight, obese and hyperalimentation were the third most prevalent medical conditions in bipolar individuals. The US National Epidemiologic Survey reported the positive association between obesity and bipolar disorder suggesting that there is a link between the two (Zhao et al., 2016). Since the initial hypothesis, studies show that there is similar brain activity regarding the reward system in both overeating behavior and hypomania, which relates to self-stimulating behaviors and shows that bipolar disorder and obesity share common pathogenic pathways. The question we might all be asking ourselves is: why might this be and what can we do with this information?   

The first culprit we might want to investigate is the medication those with bipolar disorder are being prescribed. However, even after controlling for psychotropic medication use, the relationship between bipolar disorder and obesity still stand (McElroy & Keck, 2012). One hypothesis states that the combination of the two conditions is associated with elevated number of clinical conditions depending on the duration and number of episodes (Goldstein et al., 2011). The study concluded that future research should contribute to the prevention and treatment of obesity because of its burden on bipolar disorder shown with the association between the severity of the disorder and the increased prevalence of obesity (Goldstein et al., 2011).

When studies take a closer look at adolescents with bipolar disorder in comparison to their peers without bipolar disorder, obesity was not more prevalent in individuals with bipolar disorder (Medicalxpress, 2016). Therefore there is a window of opportunity to intervene in order to prevent the increased risk of obesity that is evident in adults. Although being overweight is not more common in adolescents, those who are overweight and bipolar had elevated levels of illness severity, suicide attempts, hospitalization for depression, co-occurrence with conduct disorder and bulimia and increased history of physical or sexual abuse. In an interview with Dr. Goldstein, director of the center for youth bipolar disorder in Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, he responded to this finding with the aim of discovering preventative measures for obesity in teens who also have bipolar disorder because the importance of physical and mental health is most significant. With more research, he continued, we should investigate the relationship between the biological, psychological and environmental factors of obesity influencing the severity of bipolar disorder. He concludes the interview with his plans for the subject matter and a question: “wouldn’t it be interesting, and efficient, if an intervention focused on optimizing weight could also yield mental health benefits” (Medicalxpress, 2016)?                    

Although knowledge about the connections between obesity and bipolar disorder is still in the developmental stage, the first line treatment plan for individuals with bipolar disorder and obesity “include psychotropic that efficacious for treating the mood disorder, safe, well-tolerated, and if possible, weight neutral or associated with weight loss” (McElroy & Keck, 2012). Ultimately, at this stage prospective studies are needed to determine whether obesity is a risk factor for bipolar disorder or bipolar disorder is a risk factor for obesity. Strategies for intervention and the promotion of quality of life physically and mentally are also topics for future research.  


Goldstein, B. I., Liu, S.-M., Zivkovic, N., Schaffer, A., Chien, L.-C., & Blanco, C. (2011). The burden of obesity among adults with bipolar disorder in the United States. Bipolar Disorders, 13(4), 387–395.

McElroy, S., & Keck, P. (2012). Obesity in Bipolar Disorder: An Overview. Current Psychiatry Reports, 14(6), 650-658.

Medical X Press. (2016, December 01). Obesity among adolescents with bipolar disorder is linked to increased illness severity. Retrieved January 25, 2017, from

Zhao, Z., Okusaga, O. O., Quevedo, J., Soares, J. C., & Teixeira, A. L. (2016). The potential association between obesity and bipolar disorder: A meta-analysis. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 202 120-123.

Adeola Adeyeye

It may be difficult to break down walls that have been built socially and culturally in our communities about mental illness, but it is not impossible. I am majoring in Biology and double minoring in Women's & Gender Studies and Health & Wellness. My educational concentrations as well as my pre-medical background aids me with beneficial knowledge to give those living with mental illness a voice and to increase awareness of mental and neurological disorders. The Humanology Project serves as a positive platform for change by introducing stories and informing our readers about different spheres of mental illness. I hope to deconstruct misconceptions and bring to light the many experiences of those living with mental illnesses. In my free time, I find joy in designing clothes, keeping up with the latest fashion trends, and up-cycling old clothes into brand new pieces.

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