Chronic stress and obesity

It’s a bit of a movie stereotype: the stressed-out lead character

Comfort food--good for a broken heart.

(usually female) gulping a pint of Haagen-Dazs mint chocolate chip while pouring out her heart to her plucky (usually thinner) friend. Boyfriend trouble! Lost job! Fashion failures! It all leads inevitably to the freezer.

Chronic stress--bad for kids.

Turns out that it’s true. Stress, especially when it’s chronic, can lead to impulsive eating and obesity, even in young kids. How? A new study published in the journal Pediatrics seeks to answer that question.

Researchers in rural upper New York state measured the body mass index (BMI) of 244 white nine year-olds, then rechecked their BMIs four years later.  They also tallied a stressor score for each child: a combination of nine items that included poverty, single parent status, housing problems, family turmoil, and exposure to violence.

The study found that children with higher total stress scores at age 9 were more likely to be obese at age 13. Chronic stress seems to gradually erode the ability to self-regulate, particularly to delay gratification. This finding agrees with other recent research that shows that stressed kids eat more high fat and sugary foods than their non-stressed friends.

It’s becoming clearer with each new study that chronic stress has a number of effects, all of them bad, on children’s health. Obesity is just one consequence. The health effects of early childhood stress may be lifelong, too–more on that soon.

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Filed under Development, Obesity

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