The paper evaluates the article devoted to the analysis of stress-related dietary behaviors and severe obesity. The research sample included 101 low-income women, and the evaluation of the sample let researchers find the correlations between stress and severe obesity, independent of unhealthy eating behavior. The article provides a review of stress factors associated with weight gain, as well as health complications provoked by obesity and excess stress. Although unhealthy eating is commonly associated with stress, the poor and unhealthy diet maybe not the sole factor contributing to the development of obesity, and the examination of other non-dietary factors is required.
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Stress and Eating Behavior
In their quantitative research study, “Perceived stress, unhealthy eating behaviors, and severe obesity in low-income women,” Richardson, Arsenault, Cates, and Muth (2015) evaluate the sample of 101 culturally diverse overweight, moderately obese, and severely obese women from the low-income families to identify the correlation between stress, eating behavior, other stress-related physiological factors, and severe obesity. The data collected through questionnaires and interviews are exposed to statistical analysis which allows the researchers to find the links between stress level and weight status. The findings demonstrate that excess stress is associated with alterations in eating behavior. However, Richardson et al. (2015) suggest that there may be an indirect relation between uncontrolled or emotional eating and moderate obesity while, at the same time, severe obesity, “independent of eating behaviors and diet quality” is positively associated with stress (p. 4).
In their article, Richardson et al. (2015) test several hypotheses identified through a review of previous literature findings. First, the researchers hypothesize that the excess level of stress is associated with severe obesity both through eating behavior and “non-diet-related risk factors” (p. 2). Another hypothesis suggests that the stress-related mechanisms of weight gain function differently in women with moderate and severe obesity.
The background information introduced in the study reveals that obesity is a common disorder among the low-income US population, and low-income people face many stressors of social and financial character which increase the risk factors for the development of obesity. Obesity is associated with multiple health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, respiratory system disorders, cardiovascular diseases, etc. At the same time, excess stress correlates to weight gain and the development of unhealthy eating behaviors, including the increase in the level of sugar, fat, and overall energy intake, as well as the deterioration of diet quality. Nevertheless, the researchers also suggest that stress may provoke the risk factors the excess weight gain which is independent of individual eating behavior, i.e. lipid metabolism disorder caused by the increased regulation of the process by cortisol.
Uncontrolled and emotional eating are the major types of dietary behaviors associated with stress. Such abnormal dietary behaviors and poor quality of food (snacks, fast food, and high-fat food) serve as the methods of coping with stress. Previously, to explain the mechanisms of stress-related eating behavior development, the researchers claimed that distress causes the impairment of cognitive restraints that may lead to an increase in food intake. But Richardson et al. (2015) argue that stress may provoke the activation of neurologic “reward signal pathways” that foster overeating (p. 2).
The effect of stress on obesity through eating behaviors is complex, and the researchers could not find a direct association between them. The study has some limitations including the small sample size and the lack of evaluation of the non-dietary obesity factors such as physical activity. While focusing on the analysis of stress-induced severe obesity, the study fails to examine the correlations between stress, dietary behaviors, and overweight or moderate obesity. Nevertheless, the study findings lead to the conclusion that there may be a positive association between overweight and stress-related overeating which increases the individual propensity to severe obesity.
Richardson, A. S., Arsenault, J. E., Cates, S. C., & Muth, M. K. (2015). Perceived stress, unhealthy eating behaviors, and severe obesity in low-income women. Nutrition Journal, 14(122), 1-10. doi:10.1186/s12937-015-0110-4