Stress can occur at any point of life, which can affect the various aspects of development. Childhood stress may have a greater influence on weight gain by women than stress during adulthood.
Interestingly, the study that appeared online in the journal Social Science & Medicine
found that neither childhood nor adult stress was associated with weight gain for men.
"These findings add to our understanding of how childhood stress is a more important driver of long term weight gain than adult stress, and how such processes differ for men and women," said one of the researchers Hui Liu, Associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University in the US.
The researchers analyzed data from a survey of 3,617 people (2,259 women and 1,358 men) who were interviewed four times in a 15-year period.
Childhood stress was measured on a range of family-related stressors that occurred at age 16 or younger such as economic hardship, divorce, at least one parent with mental health problem and never knowing one's father.
Adult stress included such factors as job loss, death of a significant other and parental and care-provider stress. The researchers found that women who experienced higher levels of childhood stress gained weight more rapidly than women who experienced less childhood stress.
"Change in body mass is a process that unfolds throughout life and childhood may be a critical period for establishing patterns that have a long term impact on women's weight over time," said Liu.
"Men and women respond to stress differently. It may be possible that women eat more to cope with stress, whereas men are more likely to engage in less weight-related strategies such as withdrawing or drinking alcohol," Liu added.