Indicators of Stress Rising in Parallel with Obesity

AngstWhen we wrote recently about stress as an important factor in rising obesity, the natural question popped up. Hasn’t stress always been with us? And of course it has been. But it turns out that it’s pretty easy to find indications that stress is indeed increasing in parallel with obesity.

In fact, the American Psychological Association reports that their survey research documents a stunning increase of stress in America since they began tracking it in 2007. Data from NHANES also suggests a long term trend of rising markers for physiologic stress since 1988.

Trends in Allostatic Load

Justin Xavier Moore and colleagues set out to study changes between 1988 and 2018 in something called allostatic load. It is a measure of the cumulative burden of chronic stress and life events. They used NHANES data for this task.

What they found was a 45 percent increase in the prevalence of U.S. adults living with a high allostatic load. They also found significant racial and ethnic disparities. Black and Latino women lived with the highest burden. Both mean scores and the prevalence of high allostatic load were highest in these groups. These are also groups that live with the highest rates of obesity.

Increasing Anxiety and Stress

Likewise, Renee Goodwin and colleagues have documented increasing anxiety for American adults between the ages of 18 and 50. For older adults, they did not find a discernable trend. The increase was greatest – 84 percent – in prevalence of anxiety (past 30 days) for young adults 18 to 25.

The most recent data come from survey research the American Psychological Association with data going back to 2007. In the past two years Americans report experiencing stress that seems unrelenting. In fact, 87 percent of adults report living with a constant stream of stressful crises without a break.

So yes, we have good reasons to believe that stress has been rising for the last three decades, in parallel with the rise in obesity. We also know that obesity can be a physiologic response to stress. Furthermore, data from an RCT tells us that reducing stress can help to reduce obesity.

Thus, focusing solely on food and physical activity to explain the ongoing rise in obesity seems unwise. At the very least, rising stress is likely a significant contributor.

Click here for the Moore study, here for the Goodwin Study, and here for the APA research. For further perspective on the stressful feelings people are having about current events, click here. Finally, if you want to dive into the concept of allostatic load and its impact on health, click here.

Angst, artwork by Alfred Kubin / WikiArt

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July 13, 2022