Does Stress Cause Childhood Obesity?

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Does Stress Cause Childhood Obesity?

Obesity is a complex metabolic disease. While its origins are uncertain, researchers are gradually zeroing in on the factors that can trigger obesity in otherwise healthy people – and it’s becoming more and more obvious that one factor – stress – is likely a direct contributor to childhood obesity.

Data from a new Iowa State University study confirms this. The study has found that adolescents exhibiting four or more of five specific “stress markers” have a greater likelihood of becoming overweight or obese.

The research results, to be published in the August issue of The Journal of Adolescent Health, are derived from data obtained from an in-depth study of more than 1000 adolescents and their mothers living in Boston, Chicago and San Antonio. The study subjects were all from low income families, as the lack of security concerning food and money are initial stressors.

The adolescents were first measured and classified according to their individual body mass index, which revealed that 47% of the teenagers were overweight or obese.

The study subjects’ data were then correlated with five stress factors that the researchers theorized to be related to the onset of obesity:

• Academic problems
• Drug and alcohol use
• Depression or other mental health problems
• Inappropriate aggression or other behaviors
• The inability to focus on the future

The correlated data showed that more than 56% of the adolescents who exhibited at least four of these five factors were overweight or obese. In other words, this study indicates that an adolescent who is stressed by poor grades, mental health problems, drug and alcohol use, or some combination of these is likely to develop weight issues.

The upshot, say the researchers, is that obesity care and prevention efforts for adolescents need to focus more on the big picture rather than on diet and exercise alone. By treating obese and overweight students holistically, including addressing stress and home-life factors, we may hope for better results in our battle against childhood obesity.

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