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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Michigan: Overweight Kids Actually Eat Less Right After Stressful Events

People often react to stress by binging on sweets or comfort foods, cravings fueled by the appetite-stimulating stress hormone cortisol.

But overweight adolescents — considered particularly susceptible to stress eating — actually ate less when exposed to a lab stressor, and the foods they eschewed were the high fat and sugar options, according to a University of Michigan study.

Even more surprising, kids who produced the most cortisol after the stressor saw the biggest appetite reduction, eating about 35 percent fewer calories in the two hours after the stressor, said principal investigator Dr. Rebecca Hasson, associate professor of movement science and nutritional sciences at the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology and School of Public Health.

Results were similar whether adolescents in the study were monitoring their food intake or not. This matters because people who restrict calories are more likely to stress eat.

That didn’t happen among these dieters, and the results suggest that a biological response — such as the flood of cortisol or the satiety hormone leptin — drove the adolescents’ reduced appetite.

Dr. Hasson and colleague Dr. Matthew Nagy, the study’s first author and an alumnus of Michigan Public Health, wanted to understand how biology and behavior impacted the eating patterns of overweight kids.

“These are really exciting findings because they give us a chance to observe eating patterns when adults are exposed to stress, which is a very important factor in childhood obesity, long-term cardiovascular risk and type 2 diabetes risk,” said Dr. Hasson.

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