Anxiety is a common mental health disorder which can be triggered by a variety of factors. New research suggests that the amount of abdominal fat a woman has during middle-age could increase her chances of developing anxiety.
Experts have known that anxiety is more likely to affect women and that “stress eating,” among other things, can lead to a thicker waistline.
In the study, published online in the journal Menopause, researchers analyzed data from more than 5,580 middle-aged Latin American women (mean age, 49.7 years).
The investigators sought to determine whether greater abdominal fat (defined as waist-to-height ratio) could increase a woman’s chances of developing anxiety.
Although this is not the first time this relationship has been examined, this study is the first of its kind known to use waist-to-height ratio as the specific link to anxiety. Waist-to-height ratio has been shown to be the indicator that best assesses cardiometabolic risk.
A general guideline is that a woman is considered obese if her waist measures more than half of her height.
The article reports that 58 percent of the study population were postmenopausal, and 61.3 percent reported experiencing anxiety.
Investigators also found that those women in the middle and upper thirds of waist-to-height ratios were significantly more likely to have anxiety, and those in the upper third were more likely to display signs of anxiety compared with women in the lower two-thirds.
Anxiety is a concern because it is linked to heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, respiratory disorders, and drug abuse, among other documented medical problems.
Research has shown an increase in the frequency of anxiety in women during midlife. Providers believe this probably a result of decreased levels of estrogen, which has a neuroprotective role.
“Hormone changes 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,” said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, North American Menopause Society (NAMS) executive director.
“This study provides valuable insights for health care providers treating middle-aged women, because it implies that waist-to-height ratio could be a good marker for evaluating patients for anxiety.”