A number of different studies have shown a link between anxiety and obesity, however, it is not known whether the obesity can contribute to feelings of anxiety or people with anxiety disorders may be at a higher risk for obesity.
One study, described in General Hospital Psychiatry, March/April 2008, and completed by the Division of Adult and Community Health in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicates that people with anxiety disorders are 30 percent more likely to be obese than those without anxiety. The results of the study also indicated that those people with depression and anxiety were less physically active.
Another study, published in the July 2006 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, also found a link between obesity and anxiety (as well as other mood disorders). This study found the link to be stronger in people that were college educated, were under 30 and were non-Hispanic white. This is possibly explained because of the social stigma placed on being overweight in some cultures, or subgroups, and more accepted in others. Although earlier studies showed women who were obese to have a higher incidence rate of anxiety, this study did not show a gender difference.
Is Obesity a Cause of Anxiety or Is Anxiety a Cause of Obesity
Gregory Simon, M.D. MPH, was one of the lead researchers in the July 2006 study. According to Dr. Simon, the results of the study did not indicate whether obesity was a cause of anxiety and mood disorders or if the reverse was true. “Many mechanisms could explain the relationship, and possibly more than one is involved. Some people eat more when they’re depressed and some people eat less, for example,” said Simon.
Professor Tony Jorm and colleagues at the Australian National University have been researching this topic for several years and plan to continue following thousands of people over a 20 year period of time to see if he can answer the question of whether anxiety comes before obesity or vice versa. According to Jorm, there are three reasons obesity may impact mental health: