Stress-induced cortisol, mood, and fat distribution in men

Obes Res. 1999 Jan;7(1):9-15. doi: 10.1002/j.1550-8528.1999.tb00385.x.


Objective: A previous study in our laboratory (Moyer et al., Obes Res. 1994;2:255-62 found that, in response to uncontrollable laboratory stress, women with a high waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) had higher cortisol reactivity, poorer coping skills, and lower anger responses than women with low WHR. We aimed to compare high WHR men's stress responses to these women.

Research methods and procedures: The current study examined cortisol reactivity and psychological data of 27 healthy high WHR men exposed to the same laboratory challenges as the women from our previous study. Men's data are discussed in relation to that of the high and low WHR women.

Results: Men responded to the stress with increases in both cortisol and blood pressure. In comparison with the high and low WHR women, men had significantly higher total cortisol on the stress day. However, when comparing a sub-sample of men and women matched in WHR's, differences in cortisol secretion were greatly diminished and no longer significant. In addition, men had higher desire for control than both high and low WHR women, and lower mood reactivity than low WHR women. Despite the lower mood reactivity of high WHR groups, the high mood reactors among the high WHR women, and to a lesser extent, men, tended to have higher cortisol reactivity.

Discussion: These results suggest that the psychological differences and greater exposure to cortisol observed among the high WHR men and women may have played a role in contributing to their greater abdominal fat depots.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Area Under Curve
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Body Constitution / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Radioimmunoassay
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Hydrocortisone