Excessive central fat puts one at greater risk of disease. In animal studies, stress
secretion has been shown to increase central fat. The objective of this study was to assess whether women with central fat distribution (as indicated by a high waist-to-hip ratio
[WHR]), across a range of body mass indexes, display consistently heightened cortisol
reactivity to repeated laboratory stressors.
Fifty nine healthy premenopausal women, 30 with a high WHR and 29 with a low WHR, were exposed to consecutive laboratory sessions over 4 days (three stress
sessions and one rest session). During these sessions, cortisol
and psychological responses were assessed.
Women with a high WHR evaluated the laboratory challenges as more threatening, performed more poorly on them, and reported more chronic stress
. These women secreted significantly more cortisol
during the first stress
session than women with a low WHR. Furthermore, lean women with a high WHR lacked habituation to stress
in that they continued to secrete significantly more cortisol
in response to now familiar challenges (days 2 and 3) than lean women with a low WHR.
Central fat distribution is related to greater psychological vulnerability to stress
reactivity. This may be especially true among lean women, who did not habituate to repeated stress
. The current cross-sectional findings support the hypothesis that stress
secretion may contribute to central fat and demonstrate a link between psychological stress
and risk for disease.