Gaining weight? Stress may not be main culprit

Mon Nov 1, 2010 7:45am EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Stressed and gaining weight? The stress -- and the exercise-slacking or chocolate-munching it breeds -- may actually not be the main culprit.

Despite the common belief that stress causes people to pack on weight by reaching for junk food or avoiding exercise, on average it appears to have only small long-term impact at most, according to a study.

A review of 36 previously published studies on stress and weight gain led by Jane Wardle, at University College London, found that the majority showed no association between people's stress levels and their weight gain over several years.

When the study, which appeared in "Obesity," combined the results of the research, there was only a modest association overall between stress and weight gain. "We assumed that there would be a substantial association between stress and obesity, since the popular view is that stress contributes to weight gain," said Andrew Steptoe, who also took part in the study, in an email to Reuters Health.

"But when we looked carefully at well-controlled scientific studies, effects were surprisingly small."

The study analyzed 32 international studies conducted mainly in the 1990s and 2000s.

All assessed participants' stress levels, then followed the subjects over time to see whether there was a relationship between stress and subsequent weight gain.

Most followed participants for 1 to 7 years, but a few were longer term projects that followed people for up to 38 years. Some focused on work stress, while others covered general life stress -- anything from major traumas like a serious illness or a divorce, to feeling overwhelmed by daily issues.

Overall, 69 percent of the studies found no clear association between stress levels and weight gain, while 25 percent linked higher stress levels to greater weight gain.   Continued...

<p>A man walks past the New York Stock Exchange in a file photo. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>