Psychosocial factors have significant impact on obesity

26 August 2010

Psychosocial factors such as symptoms of depression, self-control, expectations of one’s own capabilities and social support have a major impact on obesity. Socio-economic factors such as education were also found to be associated with obesity and psychosocial factors affecting it. These are some of the main results to emerge from research conducted under the Academy of Finland’s Nutrition, Food and Health research programme, which is scheduled for completion later this autumn.

According to Professor Ari Haukkala, who is in charge of the research, and PhD researcher Hanna Konttinen, their studies clearly demonstrate the association between emotions, eating and obesity. “Weight management programmes and guidance should pay more attention to the social and psychological factors that impact diets and physical exercise,” they say.

They discovered in their research that on average, people with more education are less obese than people with less education. This is explained in part by the slight difference seen in the criteria of food choices as well as by the higher level of leisure physical activity among people with more education. These people also reported having access to more social support, and they had greater faith in their ability to maintain their level of physical activity.

Emotions play a major part in eating behaviour, and emotional eating is associated with greater obesity among both men and women. However, emotional eating is more common among women. There is also an association between depressiveness and obesity, which is explained by the greater tendency of depressed people to fall into emotional eating and their greater difficulties to continue with physical exercise. Emotional eaters and depressed individuals furthermore report eating sweet and salty foods more often than others.

It seems that conscious restraint of eating is an effective strategy of weight control for obese people. In the case of normal-weight people, by contrast, the restraint of eating may be an indication of their having problems with weight control, for it may interfere with normal mechanisms that regulate the sense of hunger and fullness, for example.

The sample of 6,258 respondents was representative of the Finnish population and it was collected in connection with the FINRISK research. The survey included a health examination and a questionnaire concerning lifestyle factors, eating habits and psychosocial factors.

For more information contact
Professor Ari Haukkala and PhD researcher Hanna Konttinen, University of Helsinki, Department of Social Sciences

Ari Haukkala: tel. +358 9 191 24891,

Hanna Konttinen: tel. ?,



Academy of Finland Communications
Trainee Communications Officer Katri Koskela
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