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Low Intake of Fruits, Vegetables Associated With Anxiety

March 18, 2020

Consuming fewer than 3 sources of fruits and vegetables a day was associated with at least a 24% higher risk of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, according to a study of factors linked with anxiety published online in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 

“This may also partly explain the findings associated with body composition measures,” said study coauthor Jose Mora-Almanza, a Mitacs Globalink intern who worked with the study at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), British Columbia, Canada. “As levels of total body fat increased beyond 36%, the likelihood of anxiety disorder was increased by more than 70%.”

“Increased body fat may be linked to greater inflammation. Emerging research suggests that some anxiety disorders can be linked to inflammation,” added lead study author Karen Davison, PhD, health science faculty member and nutrition informatics lab director at KPU.

Study Yields Insight Into Genetic Architecture of Anxiety

The study, based on responses from 26,991 men and women aged 45 through 85 years from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, found 8.5% of participants self-reported a physician diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.

According to results, the prevalence of anxiety disorders was higher among women (1 in 9) than men (1 in 15), and among people with a lifetime single status (13.9%) compared with those living with a partner (7.8%). One in five people with an annual household income of less than $20,000 reported an anxiety disorder, which was double the rate of more financially well-off respondents.

Compared with a rate of 3% among people with no chronic conditions, the rate of anxiety disorders was 16.4% among those with three or more chronic conditions. Chronic pain, meanwhile, was associated with double the rate of an anxiety disorder compared with no chronic pain.

Practice Tool: Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A)

Interestingly, the study found a 6.4% anxiety disorder rate among respondents who were immigrants. The rate among native-born Canadians was 9.3%.

“Immigrants may face a myriad of challenges associated with resettling in a new country, including language barriers, poverty, difficulties in getting qualifications recognized, and limited social support, so it seems counter-intuitive that they should have a lower likelihood of anxiety disorders than those born in Canada,” said senior author Esme Fuller-Thompson, PhD, a professor at the University of Toronto.

“It may be that potential immigrants with anxiety disorders would find the challenges of relocation too anxiety-inducing and would therefore not choose to immigrate, so there is a 'self-selection' for those with lower anxiety.” 

—Jolynn Tumolo


Davison KM, Lin SL, Tong H, Kobayashi KM, Mora-Almanza JG, Fuller-Thomson E. Nutritional factors, physical health and immigrant status are associated with anxiety disorders among middle-aged and older adults: findings from baseline data of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020;17(5):1493. 

Low fruit and vegetable intakes and higher body fat linked to anxiety disorders [press release]. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto; February 27, 2020.

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