Anxiety: Does waist size have anything to do with it?

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Anxiety, a common mood disorder, has many risk factors — such as genetic makeup and stress. Recently, researchers have been revealing the relevance of some more surprising risk factors. A new study from Latin America suggests that waist size may be one of them.
illustration of jeans and measuring tape

New research investigates the link between waist measurements and the risk of anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are now the “most common” mental condition among adults in the United States, confirm the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety as men, and they are also more likely to overeat due to stress.

Moreover, anxiety has also been associated with the advent of cardiometabolic diseases, such as coronary heart disease and diabetes.

A new study from Latin America that focused on postmenopausal women now suggests that the risk of developing a form of anxiety later in life may have something to do with the size of a woman’s waistline.

The researchers, who hail from many institutions across Latin American countries — including Peru, Chile, and Ecuador — found correlations between women’s waist-to-height ratio and her chance of being diagnosed with anxiety.

The paper — whose first author is Dr. Karen Arroyo, from the School of Medicine at Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas in Lima, Peru — that reports the researchers’ findings has been published in the journal Menopause.

Waist-to-height ratio and risk of anxiety

Dr. Arroyo and her colleagues worked with 5,580 women with a mean age of 49.7 years. Of these participants, 58 percent were postmenopausal, and 61.3 percent said that they lived with anxiety.

The scientists examined data related to women’s weight and height to determine whether or not there was any association between waist size and the risk of developing anxiety.

According to the researchers, this is the first time that waist-to-height ratio, specifically, has been examined to uncover a link with anxiety disorders. The waist-to-height ratio has previously been looked to as an indicator of cardiometabolic risk — which, as aforementioned, has been tied to mood disorders including anxiety.

The waist-to-height ratio is determined by dividing waist circumference measurements by height measurements, and a woman is typically obese if her waist size equals more than half her height measurements.

In the current study, Dr. Arroyo and colleagues divided the participants into three groups — lower, middle, and upper tertile — based on their calculated waist-to-height ratios.

To begin with, the team found that the women in the middle and upper tertiles were at significantly higher risk of having anxiety than their peers in the lower tertile.

However, after adjusting for relevant factors, they saw that only the women in the uppermost tertile were more likely to exhibit telling signs of anxiety.

In short, the larger a woman’s waistline, the more likely she is to experience anxiety.

Better care for women

Previous studies have shown that postmenopausal women are more likely to have anxiety and that their quality of life is sometimes severely affected by it, and some research suggested an overlap between the physiological effects of menopause, such as hot flashes, and symptoms of anxiety.

Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton — who is the executive director of the North American Menopause Society — explains that this study’s findings may help to improve the health guidelines offered to women at later stages in life.

“Hormone changes,” she explains, “may be involved in the development of both anxiety and abdominal obesity because of their roles in the brain as well as in fat distribution.”

This study provides valuable insights for healthcare providers treating middle-aged women, because it implies that waist-to-height ratio could be a good marker for evaluating patients for anxiety.”

Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton

4 months ago

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