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Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009 Dec;17(12):2155-61. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.183. Epub 2009 Jun 11.

Perceived stress and weight gain in adolescence: a longitudinal analysis.

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Health Behaviour Research Centre, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK.


Although perceived stress has been hypothesized to be a risk factor for obesity, epidemiological studies relating stress to weight gain have shown mixed results. We examined prospective associations between perceived stress and changes in waist circumference and BMI in a large study of adolescents. As part of the Health and Behaviour in Teenagers Study (HABITS), height, weight, and waist circumference were measured annually in 4,065 adolescents aged from 11 to 16. Waist and BMI standard deviation scores (SDS) were used as indices of adiposity. Adolescents completed a measure of perceived stress each year, from which mean stress scores over the 5-year period were also calculated and divided by tertile into lower, moderate, and higher stress. Associations between perceived stress at each year and adiposity 1-4 years later and also adiposity trajectories over the whole period in relation to mean stress were investigated. Analyses were adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic deprivation, pubertal timing, and smoking. Perceived stress in any year was not related prospectively to increases in waist or BMI SDS 1-4 years later, nor was there any evidence that higher stress over the whole period was associated with greater gains in waist or BMI SDS. However, waist and BMI SDS were significantly higher in the moderate- and higher-stress groups than the lower-stress group across the whole 5-year period. Persistent stress was associated with higher waist circumference and BMI in adolescence, but did not lead to differential changes over 5 years.

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