If you’re among the 10% of adults who suffer from restless leg syndrome (RLS), check the scale. New research from Harvard Medical School suggests obese individuals are 1½ times more likely to suffer from this nighttime ailment, characterized by a prickling, crawling sensation and the urge to move the legs for temporary relief.

Looking at the prevalence of RLS among 88,667 men and women, researchers found the obese were at 42% increased risk of the disorder. Excess abdominal fat posed a particular threat: Those with the largest waist circumference faced a 60% increased risk. The findings represent an association — not a cause — and indeed it’s possible that the sleep deprivation which results from RLS could be contributing to obesity (as opposed to the other way around).

Inadequate shut-eye raises levels of cortisol, increasing appetite, while also impeding the body’s ability to efficiently metabolize carbohydrates. Obesity has also been linked to iron deficiency, which in itself may be a factor in RLS. While the precise mechanism behind RLS remains obscure, the health dangers of obesity couldn’t be clearer.  Among these: increased risk of kidney failure, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, osteoporosis, migraines, even psoriasis. Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables not only supports overall health, but helps keep you trim by filling you up and meeting nutrient requirements, thus potentially lowering your risk of RLS.
Published May 1, 2010