Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Psychology

First Advisor

Barry Nierenberg

Second Advisor

Paula Brochu

Third Advisor

Christian DeLucia


biomarkers, health outcomes, obesity, psychological well-being


The complications associated with obesity are some of the most pressing health concerns facing the United States. At present, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer are some of the leading causes of death, and researchers have cited obesity as one related factor (NIH, 2000). The topic of obesity has typically been approached through two seemingly contradictory lenses: The biomedical model that views obesity as a disease risk factor (e.g. Huxley, Mendis, Zheleznyakov, Reddy, & Chan, 2010) and the psychosocial model that considers the stigma associated with obesity to be more harmful than weight itself (e.g., Hatzenbuehler, Keyes, & Hasin, 2009). This study examines whether Psychological Well-Being (PWB; Ryff, 1989a) can unify the seemingly contradictory viewpoints by testing its effect on health outcomes for higher body weight (HBW) individuals. Previous literature has found that obesity predicts lower levels PWB facets (Margallares, Benito de Valle, Irles, Bolaños-Rios, & Jauregui-Lobera 2014) and that this finding is disproportionately true for women (Bookwala & Boyar, 2008). There is also promising literature that PWB can have positive effects on health outcomes (Koizumi, Ito, Kaneko, & Motohashi, 2008) as well as biomarkers that are predictive of diseases (Boylan & Ryff, 2015). This study adds to the existing literature by hypothesizing that the relationship between PWB and HBW will no longer be significant once relevant covariates are added (e.g., perceived discrimination). Additionally, this study explored the cross-sectional predictive relationship between PWB and biomarkers known to be associated with obesity (e.g., triglycerides) as well as the longitudinal effects of PWB on an aggregate measure of health outcomes (e.g., cardiovascular disease) after 10 years. Moderating effects of PWB were also examined for each of the aforementioned relationships. The following results are reported for the full models with covariates included. It was found that adiposity was not a significant predictor of any facet of PWB. With regard to biomarker outcomes, Positive Relations with Others was a predictor of worse biomarker outcomes, while Environmental Mastery was a predictor of more favorable outcomes. Finally, this study provided modest, preliminary support that Autonomy was a positive predictor of disease outcomes 10 years later. The findings of this study provide modest evidence that scoring high on a scale that measures one’s capability to effectively manipulate one’s environment led to improved cross-sectional biomarker outcomes, while scoring high on a domain that suggests one is less likely to be persuaded by external influences (i.e., Autonomy) leads to poorer longitudinal health outcomes. The context of an individual’s social network with regard to biomarker outcomes was also illuminated. In sum, these findings seem to support biopsychosocial influences (especially behavioral) with regard to short- and long-term health outcomes. Past literature on PWB encourages balance in each domain as being too high or low in either direction can lead to impairments in functioning (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005; Ryff, 1989b). Perhaps most importantly, the mixed findings of this study provide preliminary support that the ideal of balance in PWB domains also extends to the realm of physical health.

Included in

Psychology Commons