Depression And Anxiety Are As Harmful To Long-Term Health As Smoking And Obesity, Study Finds

The silhouette of a woman facing depression.
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When it comes to long-term health, depression and anxiety can be killers.

New research from the University of California-San Francisco found that anxiety and depression can be as bad for health as smoking and obesity and increase the risk for serious health conditions, including heart disease. As CTV News reported, the research looked at health data from a government study of 15,418 retirees and found that those who suffered from anxiety and depression had a higher rate of nearly all illnesses.

“Participants with high levels of anxiety and depression had a 65 percent increased chance of a heart condition, a 64 percent higher risk of stroke, a 50 percent higher risk of high blood pressure and an 87 percent higher risk of arthritis, compared to those without anxiety and depression,” the report noted.

The report added that there was not a link between anxiety and depression and instances of cancer, despite many of the research subjects believing that there would be.

There was also an increase in so-called “somatic symptoms” like headache, back pain, and shortness of breath among those who suffered anxiety and depression. There was a dramatic increase for some of these, Science Daily noted. The report found that the odds of suffering headaches increased by 161 percent for those who suffered from anxiety and depression, with no increase among participants who were obese and smokers.

Researchers said this was the first study that directly compared the effects of anxiety and depression to obesity and smoking, and the results have been widely circulated since the release this week.

“These increased odds are similar to those of participants who are smokers or are obese,” said senior author Aoife O’Donovan, Ph.D., “However, for arthritis, high anxiety and depression seem to confer higher risks than smoking and obesity.”

As previous studies have noted, people who suffer anxiety and depression are often more likely to suffer the effects of multiple ailments. In the U.K., researchers studied the link between depression and obesity and found that there is often a common factor that causes both.

“The researchers found that having a combination of the genetic variants which were associated with higher BMI was also associated with depression,” the NHS reported.

“This was some evidence that it was even the case when a person had the variants which reduced their risk of metabolic complications. This may suggest that obesity influences depression risk through psychological rather than metabolic changes; at least in some cases.”