Linking psychosocial stressors and childhood obesity

Obes Rev. 2011 May;12(5):e54-63. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2010.00813.x. Epub 2010 Nov 3.


Research has established a wide array of genetic and environmental factors that are associated with childhood obesity. The focus of this review is on recent work that has established the relationship between one set of environmental factors, stressors and childhood obesity. These stressors are particularly prevalent for low-income children, a demographic group that has high rates of obesity in the USA and other developed countries. In this review, we begin by summarizing the psychosocial stressors faced by children followed by health outcomes associated with exposure to these stressors documented in the literature. We then summarize 11 articles which examined the connection between psychosocial stressors in the household and obesity and eight articles which examined the connection between individual psychosocial stressors and obesity. Policy recommendations emerging from this research include recognizing reductions in childhood obesity as a potential added benefit of social safety net programmes that reduce financial stress among families. In addition, policies and programmes geared towards childhood obesity prevention should focus on helping children build resources and capacities to teach them how to cope effectively with stressor exposure. We conclude with suggestions for future research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Poverty*
  • Psychology, Social
  • Social Environment
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology