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A woman’s weight in middle age may be a predictor of stress and anxiety later in life, says a new study appearing in the journal Menopause.1

Specifically, a women’s weight-to-height ratio is linked to a greater chance of suffering from one of the many anxiety disorders that impact up to 40 million Americans every year, according to the study.

In the new study, researchers assessed more than 5,500 women with an average age of 50 years who were living in Latin America. They found a correlation between the amount of a woman’s body fat and the chances of her suffering from anxiety. Women with more belly fat “were significantly more likely to have anxiety,” notes the North American Menopause Society, which published the new research.

overweight old manHigh amounts of belly fat are also tied to a host of disease states and conditions, including risk of heart attack and metabolic disorders, such as diabetes. While previous studies have looked at abdominal fat and body mass index (BMI) as a link to anxiety and depression, this is the first to directly observe the impact of weight-to-height ratio as it affects a person’s mental health.

Anxiety, too, is linked to dangerous health conditions. The study says that anxiety can lead to heart disease, diabetes, respiratory problems, thyroid issues and abuse of drugs and alcohol.

Women are about twice as likely as men to suffer from general anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Associationof America (ADAA).2 Also, middle-aged women tend to face higher rates of anxiety and depression. Researchers speculate that lower levels of estrogen, which fall when a woman goes through menopause, may be tied to rising anxiety rates. The same mechanisms may be true for weight gain, as well.

Belly Fat | Gundry MD“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. 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,” says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of the North American Menopause Society.

About 58 percent of women were postmenopausal during the study, and the researchers found that more than three out of five – or about 61 percent – of women were experiencing anxiety. Women who were in the top 33 percent of weight-to-height measurements were far more likely to show signs of anxiety than women who ranked in the lower percentages.

While some evidence shows that “stress eating” can cause a person to add fat, the new study shows that the opposite may also be true – namely, that preexisting belly fat can bring on anxiety in middle age.

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