Stress may indeed be a direct contributor to childhood obesity. That's according to a new Iowa State University study finding that increased levels of stress in adolescents are associated with a greater likelihood of them being overweight or obese.

The study of 1,011 adolescents (aged 10-15) and their mothers from low income families living in three cities -- Boston, Chicago and San Antonio -- was posted on the Web site of the Journal of Adolescent Health, which will publish it in the August issue. Forty-seven 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 behavior, 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.

The five factors 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 behaviors
Lack of future orientation

The researchers wrote that the adolescents' relationship with stress and becoming overweight may be a result of biological (perturbed hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal glands) 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," Lohman said. "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."

Source: Science Daily

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090514125200.htm