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Chronic Stress Contributes to Obesity


According to a recent study by the departments of psychiatry and biomedical engineering at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, chronic social stress can cause obesity.

We are all aware that stress can create weight gain however, new studies are suggesting that everyday social stress such as test taking, new job, public speaking, job and relationship pressures may result in overeating and weight gain. With obesity on the rise, research and scientists are focused on the causes and effects of weight gain, including the effects of stress.

In the current study, researchers observed rats who were exposed to the daily stress that are common in humans and examined how this stress contributed to the rats’ food intake and meal pattern changes.

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Rats were individually housed for three weeks while scientists observed meal pattern behaviors. The rats were then reorganized to form colonies which included four males and two females—and matched with a control group. Scientist found that within a few days, all colonies formed their own hierarchy resulting in the dominance of one male and the subordination of the other three males.

During this highly stressful event, both subordinate and dominant rats reduced their initial food intake and body weight compared to the earlier habituation period and also compared to the control group.

Stress causes obesity

Researchers then found that once the hierarchy stabilized, the dominant rats recovered their food intake relative to the control animals, while the subordinate rats continued to eat less by reducing their number of meals. In addition, the subordinate rats ate primarily during lighted periods, showing a change in circadian behavior. During the recovery period, the subordinate rats continued to overeat, by eating longer meals and gaining fat, suggesting they experienced long-term, harmful metabolic changes.

What we know is that both animals and humans experience stress on a daily basis and many individuals cycle through patterns of stress and recovery throughout the day. The study shows that if, following stress, individuals consume larger meals less frequently, the result is weight gain. It also appears that this type of weight gain goes right to the abdomen. Stress, as well as belly fat, contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease, immune dysfunction and other disorders.

More and more studies are being conducted and researchers are finding answers about how chronic social stress contributes to weight gain.