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Soc Sci Med. 2015 Aug;139:61-9. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.06.026. Epub 2015 Jun 27.

Gender, stress in childhood and adulthood, and trajectories of change in body mass.

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Department of Sociology, Michigan State University, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Sociology and Population Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin, USA.


Despite substantial evidence of the linkage between stress and weight change, previous studies have not considered how stress trajectories that begin in childhood and fluctuate throughout adulthood may work together to have long-term consequences for weight change. Working from a stress and life course perspective, we investigate the linkages between childhood stress, adulthood stress and trajectories of change in body mass (i.e., Body Mass Index, BMI) over time, with attention to possible gender variation in these processes. Data are drawn from a national longitudinal survey of the Americans' Changing Lives (N = 3617). Results from growth curve analyses suggest that both women and men who experienced higher levels of childhood stress also report higher levels of stress in adulthood. At the beginning of the study period, higher levels of adulthood stress are related to greater BMI for women but not men. Moreover, women who experienced higher levels of childhood stress gained weight more rapidly throughout the 15-year study period than did women who experienced less childhood stress, but neither childhood nor adulthood stress significantly modified men's BMI trajectories. These findings add to our understanding of how childhood stress-a more important driver of long-term BMI increase than adult stress-reverberates throughout the life course to foster cumulative disadvantage in body mass, and how such processes differ for men and women. Results highlight the importance of considering sex-specific social contexts of early childhood in order to design effective clinical programs that prevent or treat overweight and obesity later in life.


Adulthood; Body mass index; Childhood; Gender; Stress

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