"The association between psychosocial stressors and body mass index in middle-aged and older adults in the United States"
Obesity is most prevalent among middle-aged and older adults. Mounting evidence suggests that stress increases the risk of obesity, and this may occur via psychological and/or behavioral pathways. However, research on psychosocial stress and excess body weight has typically been cross-sectional and focused on single stressors.
Using three-waves of data from the Health and Retirement Study, we conducted longitudinal analyses to assess associations between change in five psychosocial stressors—perceived discrimination, financial strain, neighborhood stress, acute stress, and relationship strain—and change in body mass index (BMI), adjusting for sociodemographic factors, alcohol use, and smoking history.
Perceived discrimination, financial strain, and relationship strain were positively associated with greater increase in BMI over time. Greater cumulative stress burden was associated with greater increase in BMI over time. In stratified analyses, greater financial strain was associated with greater increase in BMI among Whites, whereas greater neighborhood stress was associated with decrease in BMI among Blacks.
Different sources of stress may be risk factors to weight gain and impact BMI in adults. Reducing exposure to stress may have help reduce the burden of high BMI among middle-aged and older adults.
Adolfo G. Cuevas, Ph.D., is a community psychologist and Director of the Psychosocial Determinants of Health (PSDH) Group at Tufts University. His work primarily focuses on the intersection between race/ethnicity, psychosocial stressors, and obesity. Dr. Cuevas has received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Cancer Disparities Research Network to investigate the biobehavioral pathways linking psychosocial stress and obesity disparities. His work has been published in scientific journals, including Obesity, Psychosomatic Medicine, Health Psychology, and American Journal of Public Health and featured in HuffPost and NPR's Code Switch. Dr. Cuevas was selected as one of the National Minority Quality Forum's 40 Under 40 Leaders in Minority Health. He received a Ph.D. in Applied Psychology at Portland State University concentrating in Community Psychology and Research Methods, an MS in Applied Psychology at Portland State University, and a BA in Psychology at City College of New York. He attained additional training as a cancer prevention postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (2015-2017).