Anxiety disorders and obesity

Psychiatriki. 2011 Oct-Dec;22(4):307-13.


Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental disorders in developed countries. On the other hand, obesity is recognized to be one of the greatest public health problems worldwide.The connection between body weight and mental disorders remains an open issue. Low body weight has been studied enough (anorexia nervosa is a typical example) but high body weight has not been addressed sufficiently. It is known that obesity has been related with depression. Although moderate level of evidence exists for a positive association between obesity and anxiety disorders, the exact association between these two conditions is not clear yet.The studies about this subject are quite few and they follow different methodology. Furthermore,anxiety disorders share some common elements such as anxiety, avoidance and chronicity, but they also present a great deal of differences in phenomenology, neurobiology, treatment response and prognosis. This factor makes general conclusions difficult to be drawn. Obesity has been associated with anxiety disorders as following: most of the studies show a positive relationship with panic disorder, mainly in women, with specific phobia and social phobia. Some authors have found a relationship with generalised anxiety disorder but a negative relationship has been also reported.Only few studies have found association between obesity and agoraphobia, panic attacks and posttraumatic stress disorder. There has not been reported a relationship between obesity and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The causal relationship from obesity to anxiety disorders and vice versa is still under investigation. Pharmacological factors used for obesity treatment, such as rimonabant,were associated with depression and anxiety. Questions still remain regarding the role of obesity severity and subtypes of anxiety disorders. Besides, it is well known that in the morbidly obese patients before undergoing surgical treatment, unusual prevalence of psychopathology, namely depression and anxiety disorders, is observed. Anxiety is also a common trait in personality disorders.There is no single personality type characteristic of the morbidly obese, they differ from the general population as their self-esteem and impulse control is lower. Obese patients present with passive-dependent and passive-aggressive personality traits, as well as a trend for somatization and problem denial. Their thinking is usually dichotomous and catastrophic. Obese patients also show low cooperativeness and fail to see the self as autonomous and integrated. When trying to participate in society roles they are subject to prejudice and discrimination and should be treated with concern to help alleviate their feelings of rejection and guilt.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / complications
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Personality
  • Personality Disorders / complications
  • Personality Disorders / psychology