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J Adolesc Health. 2013 Jun;52(6):731-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.11.013. Epub 2013 Feb 8.

Concurrent and longitudinal associations between diurnal cortisol and body mass index across adolescence.

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Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53719-1176, USA.



Childhood and adolescent obesity have reached epidemic levels; however, little is known about the psychobiological underpinnings of obesity in youth and whether these differ from the mechanisms identified in adults. The current study examines concurrent (i.e., measured at the same point in time) and longitudinal (i.e., using earlier cortisol measures to predict later body mass index [BMI]) associations between diurnal cortisol and BMI across adolescence.


Adolescent diurnal cortisol was measured over 3 days at each 11, 13, and 15 years. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to extract average measures of predicted morning, afternoon, evening levels of cortisol and the diurnal slope at each assessment. Adolescent BMI (kg/m(2)) was measured at 11, 13, 15, and 18 years. Sex, family socioeconomic status, mother's BMI, pubertal status, and adolescent mental health were examined as possible confounding variables.


Linear regressions revealed that blunted patterns of adolescent cortisol were associated with increased measures of BMI across adolescence both concurrently and longitudinally, particularly when examining measures of cortisol in early adolescence. Multinomial logistic regressions extended the linear regression findings beyond BMI scores to encompass categories of obesity.


The current study builds on previous research documenting diurnal cortisol-obesity findings in adults by demonstrating similar findings exist both concurrently and longitudinally in adolescents. Findings suggest the association between cortisol and BMI is developmentally influenced and that blunted diurnal cortisol patterns can be identified in overweight individuals at a younger age than previously thought.

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