Increased levels of stress in adolescents are associated with a greater likelihood of them being overweight or obese, a new Iowa State University study has found.
Researchers studied 1,011 adolescents (aged 10-15) and their mothers from low-income families living in three cities - oston, Chicago and San Antonio.
They found that 47 percent of the teens in the sample were overweight or obese, but that percentage increased to 56.2 percent among those who were impacted by four or more stressors.
"We found that an adolescent or youth who's more stressed, caused by such things as having poor grades, mental health problems, more aggressive behaviour, or doing more drugs and alcohol, is also more likely to be overweight or obese," said lead author Brenda Lohman, an Iowa State assistant professor of human development and family studies (HDFS).
The five factors researchers used to determine the individual stressor index for the adolescents were academic problems, consumption of drugs and alcohol, depression or poor mental health levels, acting out or aggressive behaviours and lack of future orientation.
The researchers said that the adolescents' relationship with stress and becoming overweight may be a result of biological as well as behavioral responses to stress, such as overeating and lack of exercise.
"It could possibly be that the obesity is leading to these stressors too. And so the work that we're doing right now looks at which one of these is really coming first: the stressors or the obesity. We know that it is cyclical and that all of these factors just compound on each other," Lohman said.
The study also found that a mother's stress, coupled with food insecurity in the household-a situation in which an individual cannot access enough food to sustain active, healthy living, contributes to a child's chances of becoming overweight or obese.
The study has been published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.