We all know Santa Claus is a big jolly guy, but is it true that fat people are happier than slim people?

They teamed up with colleagues across Europe to study the lifestyles of thousands of people and the results were stark: thin people were far less happy than rotund ones.

The claim also appears on MSN.

As a side point I have noticed that when someone loses a significant amount of weight, their jolliness seems to go away. Is this true scientifically?

  • 1
    The article is based on "Association of Body Mass Index with Suicide Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study of More than One Million Men" - aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/163/1/1.full
    – Tom77
    Dec 13, 2011 at 11:04
  • 2
    Being happy is not the opposite of being clinically depressed.
    – user792
    Dec 13, 2011 at 11:25
  • If happy people tend to be happier than angry people. But i am happy being angry... it must be because im fat :)
    – Chad
    Dec 13, 2011 at 14:36
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    Is the question about correllation or causation; and if the latter, which side? It's possible that being happy Hacuna Matata person can lead someone to consume a diet that is more fattening since they care less. (Dibs on share of IgNoble prize if someone does prove that in a study)
    – user5341
    Dec 13, 2011 at 15:22
  • I WOULD SAY EITHER the marketing guys at coca cola chose to make santa plump because of this correlation
    – YUASK
    Dec 13, 2011 at 22:40

1 Answer 1


TL;DR: It's more complicated than the dichotomy "fat=jolly, slim=unhappy" or vice versa. It depends on culture.

The report that this newspaper article was based upon is:

They found that there was a

strong inverse association was found between BMI and suicide.

and that

weight loss as a consequence of mental illness does not explain the BMI-suicide association

Now, suicide is not the opposite of happy, so the newspaper report was a bit off-the-point.

One of the authors was involved in a later study:

Raised body mass index is associated with an increased risk of depression but reduced risk of suicide in men and women.

That's an unexpected result - obese people are more likely to be depressed, but less likely to commit suicide. The authors acknowledge this needs more clarification.

Remembering that depression ≠ unhappy and suicide ≠ unhappy, and now we see that depressed ≠ suicide.

So, neither of these directly address the question, despite being the basis for it.

Well-being is a better match to happiness than (non-)depression or (non-)suicide.

This was an interesting study that showed that there were, perhaps unsurprisingly, cultural norms and socioeconomic factors involved in the question. Obesity is correlated with being poor in the U.S., but (apparently) not as much in Russia.

In the USA:

Poor whites have higher obesity-related well being costs than blacks or Hispanics. Respondents in the top income quintile who are obese and those who depart from the weight norm for their profession also suffer higher well being costs than the average. Stigma seems to be higher for those in higher status professions. We find modest evidence that causality runs from overweight to depression rather than the other way around.

In Russia:

obesity and well being are positively correlated. The relationship seems to be driven by the prosperity that is associated with obesity rather than by the excess weight per se, and we find no evidence of stigma.

  • Marina Selini Katsaiti Obesity and happiness Applied Economics Volume 44, Issue 31, 2012, DOI:10.1080/00036846.2011.587779

Looking at some additional Western cultures, this study, again, looked at well-being:

Results indicate that in all three countries [Germany, UK and Australia] obesity has a negative effect on the subjective well-being of individuals.

In summary: the answer didn't come from the original paper, and is far more complicated than the newspaper might suggest with its cherry-picked anecdotes.

The relationship between well-being and obesity is culturally dependent and socioeconomically dependent; an inverse association (and stigma) appears in Western countries, while a positive association exists Russia. There is a relationship between depression and obesity in the USA, and seems to be more likely to run from obesity to depression. There is an inverse association between obesity and suicide, despite the depression figures the other way.

  • 1
    Unsourced anecdote, but would be interested to see if there's more research on this. In the weightloss communities I've frequented, there is a recurring discussion of "eating as a coping mechanism" for depression. I speculate that this might explain why obesity -> depression, but obesity -\-> suicide. Might be interesting to see whether that angle has been studied. May 5, 2015 at 18:24

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