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Psychosom Med. 2012 Sep;74(7):699-710. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31825e3b91. Epub 2012 Jul 20.

Cardiovascular and cortisol reactions to acute psychological stress and adiposity: cross-sectional and prospective associations in the Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study.

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  • 1School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom.



In recent analyses of data from a large community sample, negative cross-sectional and prospective associations between cardiac stress reactivity and obesity were observed. The present study reexamined the association between cardiovascular reactivity and adiposity in the Dutch Famine Birth Cohort, with the additional aim of examining the association between cortisol reactivity and adiposity.


Blood pressure, heart rate, and salivary cortisol were measured at rest and in response to standard laboratory stress tasks in 725 adults. Height, weight, waist-and-hip circumference, and skinfold thickness were measured. Between 4 to 7 years later, 460 participants reported current height and weight. Obesity was defined as a body mass index of 30 kg/m(2) or higher.


Those with a greater body mass index (β = -0.39 beats per minute (bpm)), waist-to-hip ratio (β = -0.15 bpm), and triceps and subscapular skinfold thicknesses (β = -1.0 and -1.8 bpm) or who were categorized as obese (-3.9 bpm) displayed smaller cardiac reactions to acute stress (all p < .001). With the exception of waist-to-hip ratio, the same negative associations emerged for cortisol reactivity (all p ≤ .01). In prospective analyses, low cardiac reactivity was associated with an increased likelihood of becoming or remaining obese in the subsequent 4 to 7 years (odds ratio = 1.03, p = .01). All associations withstood adjustment for a range of possible confounders.


The present analyses provide additional support for the hypothesis that it is low not high cardiac and cortisol stress reactivity that is related to adiposity.

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