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Less stress may mean less fat
by Matthew - Friday, 16 September 2011, 01:22 PM
Less stress may mean less fat

Stress and obesityObesity is generally thought to be linked to three main factors: diet, exercise and genetics. However, researchers have now started to look at another element — particularly as it relates to childhood obesity — and that’s stress.

“What we see is that at least in clinical studies using rats, if you induce stress in a rat, it causes them to have high levels of cortisol, which then leads to have higher levels of obesity,” said Craig Gundersen, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois. “So we thought, well, maybe something similar is happening in humans — if people are under stress, they may be more likely to be overweight.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded some of Gundersen’s research into this question. From his own studies in the US and through a new literature review published in the journal Obesity Reviews, he and his colleagues have concluded that stress matters.

“We don’t really understand the mechanism, but we do know that children in stressful situations are more likely to be obese,” he said.

Dr. Gundersen highlights a number of factors that may be contributing to stress: uncertainty about the economy, income inequality, and a fraying social safety net. He says these stressors are particularly prevalent for low-income children, a demographic group that has high rates of obesity in the U.S. and other developed countries.

“As a society, we’re always looking for different ways we can address public health issues, whether it’s reducing food insecurity or reducing obesity,” he said.

“Although there have been many different ways to reduce obesity, what we’ve found is that stress is a leading cause of obesity among children.

“So if there’s any way we can reduce stressors from a policy standpoint, that will also have the effect of reducing obesity.”

Miller-McCune Magazine, July 27, 2011.
The British Psychological Society, 28th July 2011.

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