Exploring the Link between Hoarding and Obesity

Hoarding is a form of obsessive-compulsive behavior. An individual who exhibits hoarding tendencies has a difficult time letting go of physical items and becomes inundated with possessions, often to the point of causing physical and financial harm. Previous research has identified a link between people who hoard and obesity. Now, a new study led by Kiara R. Timpano of the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami, aims to determine if the brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is responsible for that link.Studies with gene-targeted murine models have demonstrated that Bdnf variation is linked with memory impairment, greater avoidance, greater anxiety, aggression, and obesity,” said Timpano. The variation, called the Val66Met SNP, was of particular interest to her and her team. “Considering specific psychiatric conditions, the Val66Met BDNF SNP has been associated with multiple neuropsychiatric disorders, including eating disorders,” she said.

Timpano and her team examined the BDNF gene in 301 participants who were classified with obsessive-compulsive behaviors. They used the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV-TR Axis I Disorders Patient Edition (SCID-P) to identify OCD and the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (YBOCS) to assess hoarding behaviors. The researchers also measured the body mass index (BMI) of each participant to determine obesity.

They found that more than half of the participants were above average weight, with 25.2% being classified as “overweight” and 27.2% as “obese.” They also discovered that the individuals with the highest BMI were also the most likely to exhibit hoarding behaviors. “Results revealed that individuals in the hoarding group were over two times more likely to be classified as obese compared with non-hoarders,” said Timpano. The team hopes this study helps advance research on this issue. They said, “This finding, in conjunction with our results, brain imaging evidence, and symptomatic and gender differences in hoarding compared with other forms of OCD, provide further credence to the growing notion of hoarding as a separable and distinct phenomenon.”

Timpano, Kiara R., Norman B. Schmidt, Michael G. Wheaton, Jens R. Wendland, and Dennis L. Murphy. “Consideration of the BDNF Gene in Relation to Two Phenotypes: Hoarding and Obesity.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 120.3 (2011): 700-07. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

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  • tiara

    August 27th, 2011 at 5:02 AM

    who would have ever thought hoarding and obesity have a link?not me certainly.surprised reading about this hard to deny link!

  • Blake L

    August 27th, 2011 at 6:23 AM

    I am not surprised to learn that these tendencies to “overdo” things have a lot in common and tend to exhibit themselves in numerous different ways in one person. They exhibit in different ways I suppose but in the end they all boil down to the same thing- addiction in some manner.

  • janie

    August 27th, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    oh yuck that hoarding makes me sick to my stomach

  • Lewis Wilson

    August 28th, 2011 at 3:15 AM

    I’ve had this habit of hoarding in the past,actually in my growing up years.But later I saw this as a big liability and worked to get rid of the habit.I am perfectly fine in health and just think that there’s some emotional bond that some of us just develop with the things we posses and hence the hoarding habit develops.

  • Scott W

    August 28th, 2011 at 5:22 AM

    There is sickness in all of this. There is a sickness that allows you to think that it is okay to do this kind of mess to your house and your home, and it is also a sickness that allows you to try to mask and cover all of this up with overeating. Have there been some treatments that combine the two issues at heand and let the patient work on resolving both at the same time or do you think that this is a case where one thing has to be treated and then the other? I would tend to think that they both have to be addressed at the same time as one quite literally feeds the other.

  • BOB McGrath

    August 28th, 2011 at 6:59 PM

    Not throwing out things that you know have no utility-Procrastination
    Not doing enough to get rid of that extra weight-Procrastination.

    There are a lot of other such thugs similar between hoarding and obesity. I’m not surprised to read of this.

  • ronald

    August 29th, 2011 at 4:03 AM

    I would hate to have unnecessary stuff in my closet or anywhere in the house..Well sometimes I have ended up throwing stuff that I later thought could be used somewhere but I don’t regret it.Can’t stand to see unnecessary things lying around.

  • J.O.S.H

    August 29th, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    Wow,yet another prejudice-in-the-making against obese people.If you are obese then you are a hoarder and a horrible person! When will we stop conducting these studies with a tiny number of people and deducing results from them?

  • Lydia Hill

    September 4th, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    Now that I think about it, I know a few people I would class as hoarders and all of them are overweight. I’ve personally associated it with laziness and a complete refusal to have your house decent for guests that come over. They live in a pigsty, with stuff everywhere.

    I’m no perfect housewife but when I’m expecting guests, I make a big effort to clean up and freshen the house up, but hoarders? No.

  • Natasha R.

    September 4th, 2011 at 4:45 PM

    @LydiaHill: You really have no clue what a hoarder’s home looks like, do you. They have junk piled almost from floor to ceiling, rotting food lying around and the stench would waken a corpse. You can barely walk on the floor because there’e nowhere to put your foot down that’s not covered in rubbish.

    A hoarder is not a sloppy housewife with a home that a quick spring clean will remedy! And it’s nothing to do with laziness; it’s as the article said, a form of OCD.

  • Vincent Gilbert

    September 4th, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    @Tiara: Unlike most of the ‘studies’ I’ve read, this is one connection I’ve actually not thought about much and that isn’t stating the obvious. Clearly though you’d have to have something wrong with your head if you think it’s socially acceptable to live in your own personal branch of a landfill. These hoarders are to be pitied, not scorned.

  • Alexandra B.

    September 6th, 2011 at 9:44 PM

    @janie–Me too! If I were to go to a person’s house and see they were hoarding to where it spills into the common areas, I would not be going back to that house ever again.

    God knows what’s hiding under all that trash and filth and how many diseases are incubating in among it all! I’d be scrubbing myself down when I got home. It makes me feel ill just thinking about it.

  • Lucille Ferguson

    September 7th, 2011 at 11:44 PM

    I can’t understand why hoarders get to the point they do without there being intervention either by family, neighbors or social services. Even a layman can tell that you must have some kind of disorder to live like that because of how deliberately you do it. You choose not to get rid of all the junk. Is it depression that makes them lose interest in themselves and their home environment? Does this mean that obesity and hoarding have a common root to them in the human mind? So many questions unanswered.

    All I know is that if it was my relative I’d be contacting their doctor or social services to see what can be done to help them if they refused to go get help themselves.

  • simon

    September 18th, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    Hoarding has always peaked my curiosity. I find watching shows like hoarders really interesting to me. I never could understand why these people were so attached to their stuff. It just doesn’t make sense to me, especially since they don’t seem interested in seeking help or getting rid of the stuff.

    Obesity and hoarding being linked is a bit of a shock to me, but now that I think about it, it makes sense. But I think the chances of a hoarder being obese is more likely than someone obese being a hoarder. Since a hoarder doesn’t seem to concerned with the quality of their life, I find it hard to believe that they would be concerned with their weight. This isn’t true the other way around, because obesity isn’t necessarily a disorder and they could be interested in losing weight.

  • Martina

    March 18th, 2013 at 11:08 PM

    It amazes me the cruel, condescending, comments of disgust on here. People with hoarding and obesity issues have an ILLNESS but the average “healthy” person doesn’t see it that way and instead finds them to be disgusting. The lack of respect for people who suffer with this is immense and only adds to the depression and despair hoarders/over eaters suffer from. They are viewed as lazy people who simply choose to live in a “pigsty” as one poster put it or are seen as weak. Talk about knocking you down when you are already in the gutter, it is amazing how judgmental most of you on here are. Would you be as judgmental if they had heart disease? NO, but when you can see that physically they are overweight or are hoarders it is so easy for you to judge them with vile disgust instead of one ounce of an open mind. Be grateful that you don’t suffer the same illness because you would be ashamed of your lack of empathy and compassion for those who have this disease…yes, DISEASE.

  • Bethancourt, S.

    October 23rd, 2014 at 3:09 PM

    I had a friend for 10 yrs, she weighed in the 400s for yrs. She was also a hoarder. She couldn’t walk anymore, a group of us picked up her mail, and took her garbage out. She damaged her body to the point of kidney disease, morbibly obese, diabetes, edema and sleep apena. She continue to work until she got RIFd. She also hoarding at work. She argued with all Drs, I am not morbibly obese. She blamed her mother for her weight, and her boss that RIFd her. Our company was not running a charity for disabled workers. She was barely working, and working part time. Younger workers, more talented, and hungry for a very good job got a foothold. The obese woman was 55, RIFd and said blindsided.
    She desperately needed her medical. She was needy and hysterical as they walked her out. Lazy yes. We all tried, come to weight watchers with us. Come to J Craig with us, no. She had imported chocolate in her cubicle. She eventually got a maid and personal organizer.. . She is in the process of loosing it all.

  • Brenda H

    September 14th, 2015 at 9:53 PM

    Our son is a hoarder and is obese. What can be done to treat this? He is 20 yrs old. We adopted him at birth and we’re thinking it might possibly be a genetic disposition. We are very concerned. Any ideas would be appreciated.

  • Chris C.

    July 29th, 2022 at 11:45 AM

    Reading all the comments I cannot but wonder WHAT exactly is considered as hoarding. Some people consider me a hoarder, but I fix everything and not having stuff around when things break down is pure nonsense. I always shake my head when I see people stuck in traffic to get stuff, buy it and throw away 90% of it because they can’t be bothered to keep the rest of that gallon of paint for future use that inevitably comes around a few years down the road. True, some stuff I have had stashed for decades, but they all eventually get used or discarded when they have obviously no use anymore, as when the items them could be used for are gone or that cannot be repurposed for anything else.

    That being said, I am surprised to see a direct correlation between obesity and hoarding – I would have thought that you are either obese (accumulating stuff on your body) or a hoarder (accumulating stuff in your house/garage) – having both ‘conditions’ seems extreme to me.

    Most importantly, I would have liked to see a study showing whether these two conditions are related to some nutritional of chemical deficiency.

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