Children’s Stress Influences Their Diet, Physical Activity and Adiposity: a Two-year Study

  • N. Michels
  • I. Sioen
  • L. Boone
  • C. Braet
  • E. Clays
  • I. Huybrechts
  • B. Vanaelst
  • S. De Henauw


Background Psychosocial stress and adiposity are public health threats that have been associated with each other. Longitudinal studies are needed to reveal the directionality and underlying behavioral or hormonal factors. Methods In 312 Belgian children (5-12y), the longitudinal stress-lifestyle-adiposity relation was tested. Stress data, lifestyle and adiposity (BMI,fat%,waist) were measured in 2010,2011,2012. Salivary cortisol was sampled in 2010. Findings Children with a high stress score reported more sweet food consumption, psychological eating behaviour and physical activity. Stress increased adiposity in children with high sweet food consumption or high cortisol awakening response. Stress decreased adiposity in children with high physical activity. In the other direction, adiposity also increased stress. High cortisol was associated with an unhealthy diet, supporting the cortisol-induced comfort food preference. Conclusions Children’s stress deteriorates their diet which stimulates adiposity. Stress can also enhance physical activity which inhibits adiposity. This creates a perspective for multi-factorial obesity prevention, targeting stress and lifestyle in parallel.
Oral presentations