Lower fruit and vegetable intake, higher body fat, linked to anxiety

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Adults who have low fruit and vegetable intakes have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, according to new research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The study team analyzed data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, which included 26,991 men and women between the ages of 45 and 85. An important limitation of the study was that the assessment of anxiety disorders was based upon self-reporting of a medical diagnosis. The authors also conducted multivariate analyses, taking into account the use of a family physician in the past year to address the possibility of under-reporting of anxiety disorders among those who rarely visited health professionals.

For those who consumed less than three sources of fruits and vegetables daily, there was at least at 24 percent higher odds of anxiety disorder diagnosis, according to Karen Davison, PsyD, lead author of the study. As levels of total body fat increased beyond 36 percent, the likelihood of anxiety disorder was increased by more than 70 percent, researchers said.

In addition to diet and body composition measures, the prevalence of anxiety disorders also differed by gender, marital status, income, immigrant status and several health issues. One in nine women had an anxiety disorder compared to one in fifteen men, according to the study.

The prevalence of anxiety disorders among those who had always been single (13.9 percent) was much higher than among those who were living with a partner (7.8 percent). Approximately one in five respondents with household incomes under $20,000 per year had anxiety disorders, more than double the prevalence of their wealthier peers.

Individuals with three or more health conditions had fivefold the prevalence of anxiety disorders in comparison to those with no chronic conditions (16.4 percent versus 3 percent). Those in chronic pain had double the prevalence of anxiety disorders in comparisons to those who were free of pain. Immigrants also had a lower prevalence of anxiety disorders compared to their peers (6.4 percent versus 9.3 percent).

“It is estimated that 10 percent of the global population will suffer from anxiety disorders which are a leading cause of disability" said Karen Davison, PsyD, lead author of the study, in a statement. “Our findings suggest that comprehensive approaches that target health behaviors, including diet, as well as social factors, such as economic status, may help to minimize the burden of anxiety disorders among middle-aged and older adults, including immigrants."