Study finds link between individual stress and adolescent obesity

May 14, 2009

AMES, Iowa -- Stress may indeed be a direct contributor to childhood obesity. That's according to a new Iowa State University study finding that increased levels of stress in adolescents are associated with a greater likelihood of them being overweight or obese.

The study of 1,011 adolescents (aged 10-15) and their mothers from low income families living in three cities -- Boston, Chicago and San Antonio -- was posted online by the Journal of Adolescent Health (http://www.jahonline.org/inpress) and will be published in its August issue. Forty-seven percent of the teens in the sample were overweight or obese, but that percentage increased to 56.2 percent among those who were impacted by four or more stressors.

"We found that an adolescent or youth who's more stressed -- caused by such things as having poor grades, mental health problems, more aggressive behavior, or doing more drugs and alcohol -- is also more likely to be overweight or obese," said lead author Brenda Lohman, an Iowa State assistant professor of human development and family studies (HDFS).

Susan Stewart, an ISU associate professor of sociology; and Steven Garasky, a professor of HDFS at Iowa State; joined Lohman on the research team. Former ISU faculty members Craig Gundersen, a member of the agricultural and consumer economics faculty at the University of Illinois; and Joey Eisenmann, a member of the kinesiology and pediatrics faculty at Michigan State University; also contributed to the study.

The study analyzes data obtained from the "Welfare, Children and Families: A Three-City Study" -- a six-year longitudinal investigation. Researchers measured the height and weight of the adolescents to determine their body mass index, which was subsequently used to determine weight status based on two widely used classification systems. Adolescent food insecurity status and individual, maternal and family stressors were also determined through interviews.

The five factors used to determine the individual stressor index for the adolescents were: The researchers wrote that the adolescents' relationship with stress and becoming overweight may be a result of biological (perturbed hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal glands) as well as behavioral responses to stress, such as overeating and lack of exercise.

"It could possibly be that the obesity is leading to these stressors too," Lohman said. "And so the work that we're doing right now looks at which one of these is really coming first: the stressors or the obesity. We know that it is cyclical and that all of these factors just compound on each other."

The study also found that a mother's stress, coupled with food insecurity in the household -- a situation in which an individual cannot access enough food to sustain active, healthy living -- contributes to a child's chances of becoming overweight or obese.

"In our past research, we did not find this association for older youth (ages 11-17), we only found it for young children (ages 3-10) who were in a house that had enough food or were food-secure," Lohman said. "But it may be that the adolescents are more cognitively aware of what's going on in the household and they take on their mothers' stress as well. This may be exacerbated in houses where there's not enough food."

While this study singles out mothers, fathers aren't immune to their child's weight status either.

"My own research focuses on fathers and shows that fathers, too, have an effect on children's eating habits and obesity," said Stewart, author of the book "Brave New Stepfamilies," who had another study posted by the Journal of Adolescent Health last month on nonresident father involvement and adolescent eating patterns.

"In our latest study, we found that kids who are involved with nonresident dads eat better -- more vegetables, less fast food," she said. "However, similar to the Lohman study, living with a single mom was associated with worse eating habits."

Lohman says the new research should emphasize the need for healthcare professionals to take a more holistic approach in their treatment of obese teens.

"We absolutely have to focus on their (teens) health, well-being, nutrition and exercise -- and education of these things for them," she said. "But we really need to also look holistically at their life and work towards reducing stress and rates of food insecurity for those adolescents as well."

Gunderson, Garasky and Lohman also just published a study out today on the relationship between food insecurity and adolescent obesity. Among 2,516 participants (1,239 girls, 1,277 boys) drawn from the 2001-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 37 percent of families were considered food insecure. Using five different measures of obesity -- BMI, waist circumference, triceps skinfold thickness, trunk fat mass, and percent body fat -- researchers determined that 15 to 45 percent of children were classified as obese. Yet they found no statistically significant relationship between food insecurity and obesity, regardless of which indicator was used.
-end-
The study was posted online today and will be published in the June 2009 issue of The Journal of Nutrition (http://www.nutrition.org/publications/the-journal-of-nutrition/).

Lohman is also part of another team of ISU researchers that just submitted a new grant proposal to develop family intervention strategies to reduce childhood obesity.

Contact:

Brenda Lohman, Human Development and Family Studies, (515) 294-6230, (773) 505-2872 (c), blohman@iastate.edu

Steve Garasky, Human Development and Family Studies, (515) 294-9826, sgarasky@iastate.edu

Susan Stewart, Sociology, (515) 294-5912, stewarts@iastate.edu

Iowa State University

Related Obesity Articles from Brightsurf:

11 years of data add to the evidence for using testosterone therapy to treat obesity, including as an alternative to obesity surgery
New research covering 11 years of data presented at this year's European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) show that, in obese men suffering from hypogonadism (low testosterone), treatment with testosterone injections lowers their weight and improves a wide range of other metabolic parameters.

Overlap between immunology of COVID-19 and obesity could explain the increased risk of death in people living with obesity, and also older patients
Data presented in a special COVID-19 session at the European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) suggests that there are overlaps between the immunological disturbances found in both COVID-19 disease and patients with obesity, which could explain the increased disease severity and mortality risk faced by obese patients, and also elderly patients, who are infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

New obesity guideline: Address root causes as foundation of obesity management
besity management should focus on outcomes that patients consider to be important, not weight loss alone, and include a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of obesity, according to a new clinical practice guideline published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) http://www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.191707.

Changing the debate around obesity
The UK's National Health Service (NHS) needs to do more to address the ingrained stigma and discrimination faced by people with obesity, says a leading health psychologist.

Study links longer exposure to obesity and earlier development of obesity to increased risk of type 2 diabetes
Cumulative exposure to obesity could be at least as important as actually being obese in terms of risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D), concludes new research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD]).

How much do obesity and addictions overlap?
A large analysis of personality studies has found that people with obesity behave somewhat like people with addictions to alcohol or drugs.

Should obesity be recognized as a disease?
With obesity now affecting almost a third (29%) of the population in England, and expected to rise to 35% by 2030, should we now recognize it as a disease?

Is obesity associated with risk of pediatric MS?
A single-center study of 453 children in Germany with multiple sclerosis (MS) investigated the association of obesity with pediatric MS risk and with the response of first-line therapy in children with MS.

Women with obesity prior to conception are more likely to have children with obesity
A systematic review and meta-analysis identified significantly increased odds of child obesity when mothers have obesity before conception, according to a study published June 11, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine by Nicola Heslehurst of Newcastle University in the UK, and colleagues.

Obesity medicine association announces major updates to its adult obesity algorithm
The Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) announced the immediate availability of the 2019 OMA Adult Obesity Algorithm, with new information for clinicians including the relationship between Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes Mellitus, Dyslipidemia, and Cancer; information on investigational Anti-Obesity Pharmacotherapy; treatments for Lipodystrophy; and Pharmacokinetics and Obesity.

Read More: Obesity News and Obesity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.