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Woman Reading Studying Stressed

Study Finds Stress May be Associated with Obesity

Previous research has found that stress can have long-term negative effects on physical health. A recent study suggests that people who have long-term stress may be more prone to obesity than those who do not.


Participants in the study included 2,527 people age 54 and older who took part in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. The researchers took a 2 cm lock of hair from each participant, cut close to the scalp, in order to measure accumulated levels of cortisol over the previous two months. Cortisol is a hormone that spikes when someone is experiencing stress. They also collected information on each participant’s weight, body mass index, and waist circumference.


The researchers found that people with higher levels of cortisol in their hair tended to have larger waist circumference, higher body weight, and have a higher body mass index. People who were classified as obese based on having a BMI greater than or equal to 30 and a waist circumference greater than or equal to 102 cm in men and 88 cm in women had notably higher levels of hair cortisol.


Researchers from the University College London conducted the study. It was published online ahead of print on February 23, 2017, in Obesity.


The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt many of the body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including anxiety, depression, heart disease, digestive problems, sleep problems and weight gain. Methods to lower your stress levels include meditation, yoga, and lifestyle changes.

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