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 alpha-amylase reactivity) and behavioral (caloric intake) responses to an acute stressor in overweight adolescents.
Fifty-one adolescents ages 14-19 (47% female, 55% white, BMI: 31.2±0.8 kg/m2) were exposed to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and a control condition on separate days. Immediately following each condition, participants were provided with snacks to eat at their leisure. Reactivity was assessed via salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase area under the curve (AUC), and adolescents were categorized as high or low reactors.
Cortisol AUC was higher during the stress condition (19.6±0.2 ug/dl*min) compared to the control condition ((11.4±0.9 ug/dl*min, p<0.001). Alpha amylase AUC was not different during the stress condition (9999±987 U/ml*min) compared to the control condition (8762±865 U/ml*min, p=0.145). Overall, adolescents consumed fewer calories during the stress condition (488±51 kcal) compared to the control condition (637±42 kcal, p=0.007). High cortisol reactors decreased their calorie consumption from the control condition (716±52 kcal) to the stress condition (457±53 kcal, p=0.001), while low cortisol reactors did not change their consumption (stress: 518±87 kcal vs. control: 561±62 kcal, p=0.574).
High cortisol reactivity in overweight adolescents resulted in decreased calorie consumption following an acute stressor. Further research is needed to understand the mechanisms underlying stress-induced suppression of food intake in overweight adolescents.
1University of Michigan, School of Public Health
2University of Michigan, Childhood Disparities Research Laboratory
3University of Michigan, School of Kinesiology
CONTACT INFO: Dr. Rebecca Hasson, University of Michigan, Schools of Kinesiology and Public Health, 1402 Washington Heights, 2110 Observatory Lodge, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2013, Phone: (734) 763-8671, Fax: (734) 647-2808
Conflicts of interest: The authors have nothing to disclose.
Source of funding: We thank the Stress Reactivity in Adolescence Study team and Michigan Consulting for Statistics, Computing and Analytics Research. We are also grateful for our study participants and their families for their involvement. The results of this study are presented clearly, honestly, and without fabrication, falsification, or inappropriate data manipulation. This work was supported by the University of Michigan Nutrition Obesity Research Center.
Received for publication October 20, 2018; revision received June 4, 2019.