Could stress cause obesity?

Stress hormone linked to obesity 

Researchers from the University of London suggest  long-term stress could be contributing to obesity.

The finding means there may be a way to treat obesity by targeting the stress hormone cortisol.

The paper, published in the journal Obesity, looked at the role of the stress hormone cortisol that is released in response to feeling anxious.

Researchers found people with high levels of the hormone tended to have thicker waistlines and higher body mass index (BMI).

Cortisol plays a role in where fat is stored and can be measured in hair samples.

Lowering stress could help weight loss

Dr Sarah Jackson (UCL Epidemiology and Public Health) who led the research explained in a media release:

"Hair cortisol is a relatively new measure which offers a suitable and easily obtainable method for assessing chronically high levels of cortisol concentrations in weight research and may therefore aid in further advancing understanding in this area."

She adds there was “consistent evidence” that long-term stress is linked with obesity; especially fat in the mid-section that is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and premature death.

Reducing stress to help fight weight gain might also be easier than you think. Consider the following:
  • Meditation is well known to quell anxiety and change the brain
  • Consider guided imagery that can be self-taught and practiced at home
  • A new study shows simply watching birds can lift depression and calm anxiety
  • Find ways to just slow down
The finding, though not conclusive, suggests finding ways to reduce stress could also help with weight management and help curb obesity that has become a public health concern.


Jackson, S. E., Kirschbaum, C. and Steptoe, A. (2017), Hair cortisol and adiposity in a population-based sample of 2,527 men and women aged 54 to 87 years. Obesity, 25: 539–544. doi:10.1002/oby.21733