Obesity Effects Stress

For some people, the combination of obesity and stress creates a vicious circle. “Stress eating,” a common coping strategy for stressful circumstances, can cause stress-related obesity. Obesity itself can be stress-inducing, which can trigger stress eating. A circle of stress, eating and weight gain begins this way.

Stress-Related Obesity

A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (2010) examined the connection between obesity and stress. Conducted at the University of Rochester Medical Center, the study involved 2,782 employees at a New York manufacturing facility.

This study noted that the most stressed employees were most likely to be obese, with body mass index (BMI) scores averaging one BMI unit higher than their less stressed counterparts. Factors that contributed most to employee obesity were passive television viewing, sedentary lifestyles and stress-related eating.

Effects of Obesity and Stress in Women

The relationship between stress and obesity defies simple correlations between stress and weight gain. Depression, for instance, triggers the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. Both depression and cortisol levels contribute to obesity.

Stress, Obesity and Cortisol - Effects of Obesity

According to a study conducted at Penn State University’s Department of Biobehavioral Health (2010), this cortisol release only increases the risk of female obesity. This study examined cortisol responses to stress in 111 children, aged 8 to 11.

Researchers found high cortisol levels in children who exhibited depression symptoms. While no clear relationship could be established between cortisol and obesity in the male participants, a definite link was found between these two in the females.

The researchers speculate that biological factors such as higher estrogen levels may explain this disparity. Higher rates of stress-related eating among the girls may explain these results.

Avoiding Stress-Related Obesity

Stress eating often occurs as an unconscious stress response. Luckily, stress-related obesity can be controlled. In order to identify and avoid stress eating:

  • Eat regular meals, and don’t skip breakfast.
  • Get enough sleep, which helps you to deal with stressors.
  • Get regular exercise: at least 30 minutes a day most days.
  • Identify your comfort foods and limit their consumption.
  • If you can’t tell if you’re hungry, wait 15 minutes before eating.
  • Keep a food diary to identify when and why you eat.
  • Learn to recognize signs of stress, such as irritability, headaches and anxiety.
  • Think about why you’re eating. (Is it because you’re hungry, or is it an emotional response?)


Creagan, E. (2009). How do I control stress-induced weight gain? Retrieved June 15, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/an01128.

Penn State University. (2010). Stress hormone, depression trigger obesity in girls. Retrieved June 22, 2010, from http://www.hhdev.psu.edu/news/2010/2_22_10_obesity_study.html.

Science Daily. (2010). Stress hormone, depression trigger obesity in girls, study finds. Retrieved June 15, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100223154342.htm.

Science Daily. (2010). Study connects workplace turmoil, stress and obesity. Retrieved June 15, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100324142133.htm.

University of Rochester Medical Center. (2010). Rochester study connects workplace turmoil, stress and obesity. Retrieved June 22, 2010, from http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/index.cfm?id=2803.