As if weathering a stressful event isn’t tough enough, new research shows these episodes might even widen a woman’s waistline.
Researchers analyzed data on nearly 22,000 middle-aged and older women. The goal: to assess the relationship between obesity and traumatic events -- such as the death of a child or being a victim of a serious physical attack — as well as negative events, for example, long-term unemployment or burglary.
About 23 percent of the women included in the study were obese.
Study participants who reported more than one traumatic life event were 11 percent more likely to be obese than those who did not experience a traumatic event, the findings showed.
In addition, women who reported four or more negative life events within the previous five years were 36 percent more likely to be obese than those who reported no negative events.
The link between stressful events and obesity was stronger among women with high levels of physical activity, but the reason for this was unclear, the study authors said. The report was scheduled for presentation Tuesday at the American Heart Association (AHA) annual meeting, in Anaheim, Calif.
"Little is known about how negative and traumatic life events affect obesity in women," senior author Dr. Michelle Albert said in an AHA news release.
"We know that stress affects behavior, including whether people under-eat or over-eat, as well as neuro-hormonal activity by, in part, increasing cortisol production, which is related to weight gain," she added.
Albert is a professor of medicine and cardiology, and founding director of the Center for the Study of Adversity and Cardiovascular Disease at the University of California, San Francisco.
"Our findings suggest that psychological stress in the form of negative and traumatic life events might represent an important risk factor for weight changes and, therefore, we should consider including assessment and treatment of psychosocial stress in approaches to weight management," she said.
This line of research is important "because women are living longer and are more at risk for chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease," Albert said. "The potential public health impact is large, as obesity is related to increased risks of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer, and contributes to spiraling health care costs."