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Fat Around the Middle May Be Linked to Mental Health

British researchers have found that psychological disorders like anxiety and depression may increase fat around the middle. What’s more, those of us who suffer ongoing bouts of these all-to-common mental health problems are particularly at risk. Anxiety is reported to affect an estimated 13% of those in the U.S., with teens and even kids affected. www.podopheleus.com

Depression is a part of life for more than 20 million Americans, often striking women more than men, but like anxiety can be common in the young as well. And while experts believe that common mental disorders like these might increase the risks of obesity, evidence to support the idea has been inconclusive – some studies finding a link, while others reported no association.

With rates of obesity and both these common mental disorders on the rise (recent reports suggest two times as many have anxiety/depression than experts expected), understanding any association will be helpful. So, this is why this work, completed over 19 years, has been so helpful, and has given experts the opportunity to look at repeat measurements of both physical and mental characteristics – a rare thing for researchers.

Appearing in the October 7, 2009 issue of BMJ, the research involved the analysis of data from a series of medical screenings conducted on just over 4,300 British civil servants, office workers based in London who ranged in age from 35 to 55 years old.

Subjects participated in a total of four screenings during the study period, each involved measurements of height and weight used to calculate a BMI, as well as a standardized assessment of mental health that came from responses to a self-administered, 30 item general health questionnaire.

This particular mental health-screening tool has shown high reliability in the past, and is regularly used in many population-based studies. The classifications of obesity and overweight used for this particular study came from the World health Organization’s definitions – a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9 is considered overweight, a BMI of 30.0 or over is considered obese.

The researchers found that anyone with one of the common mental health disorders at all three of the earlier screenings was two times more likely to be obese at the forth and final screening compared to the subjects that hadn’t reported any anxiety or depression symptoms at earlier screenings.

Adjustments were made for age, sex and body mass index at the start of the study in 1985. The study authors made a point to note that those who had more incidences of one of the common mental health conditions had the highest risk of weight gain and obesity.

Why is this? The team speculates that anxiety and depression are often associated with eating disorders, both over and under eating. Lack of physical activity is more common in this population, and many drug treatments (tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) used for these mental health conditions have side effects that include added weight.

The study firmly disputes the idea that fat around the middle leads to anxiety or depression in those with no pre-existing symptoms of such problems. The researchers hope that further research confirms the link between anxiety, depression and obesity as this could well lead to improved treatments, perhaps even solid preventive efforts.

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