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Stress-Induced Suppression of Food Intake in Overweight and Obese Adolescents

Nagy, Matthew R. MPH; Gill, Amaanat MS; Adams, Tessa BS; Gerras, Julia BS; Mazin, Lauren MSc; Leung, Cindy ScD, MPH; Hasson, Rebecca E. PhD, FACSM

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000732

Objective Overweight adolescents exhibit greater cortisol reactivity in response to acute stress and are more likely to eat in response to emotional cues, which suggest an increased susceptibility to stress-induced eating. The purpose of this study was to examine the biological (cortisol and α-amylase reactivity) and behavioral (caloric intake) responses to an acute stressor in overweight adolescents.

Methods Fifty-one adolescents ages 14 to 19 years (47% female, 55% white; body mass index, 31.2 ± 0.8 kg/m2) were exposed to the Trier Social Stress Test and a control condition on separate days. Immediately after each condition, participants were provided with snacks to eat at their leisure. Reactivity was assessed via salivary cortisol and α-amylase area under the curve (AUC), and adolescents were categorized as high or low reactors.

Results Cortisol AUC was higher during the stress condition (19.6 ± 0.2 μg/dl · min) compared with the control condition (11.4 ± 0.9 μg/dl · min, p < .001). α-Amylase AUC was not different during the stress condition (9999 ± 987 U/ml · min) compared with the control condition (8762 ± 865 U/ml · min, p = .145). Overall, adolescents consumed fewer calories during the stress condition (488 ± 51 kcal) compared with the control condition (637 ± 42 kcal, p = .007). High cortisol reactors decreased their calorie consumption from the control condition (716 ± 52 kcal) to the stress condition (457 ± 53 kcal, p = .001), whereas low cortisol reactors did not change their consumption (stress: 518 ± 87 kcal versus control: 561 ± 62 kcal, p = .574).

Conclusion High cortisol reactivity in overweight adolescents resulted in decreased calorie consumption after an acute stressor. Further research is needed to understand the mechanisms underlying stress-induced suppression of food intake in overweight adolescents.

From the School of Public Health (Nagy, Leung, Hasson), Childhood Disparities Research Laboratory (Nagy, Gill, Adams, Gerras, Mazin, Hasson), and School of Kinesiology, University of Michigan (Gill, Gerras, Mazin, Hasson), Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Address correspondence to Rebecca E. Hasson, PhD, FACSM, Schools of Kinesiology and Public Health, University of Michigan, 1402 Washington Heights, 2110 Observatory Lodge, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2013. E-mail:

Received for publication October 20, 2018; revision received June 4, 2019.

Online date: August 5, 2019

Copyright © 2019 by American Psychosomatic Society
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