Stress eating and health. Findings from MIDUS, a national study of US adults

Appetite. 2013 Oct;69:151-5. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.05.020. Epub 2013 Jun 6.


The epidemic of obesity and its related chronic diseases has provoked interest in the predictors of eating behavior. Eating in response to stress has been extensively examined, but currently unclear is whether stress eating is associated with obesity and morbidity. We tested whether self-reported stress eating was associated with worse glucose metabolism among nondiabetic adults as well as with increased odds of prediabetes and diabetes. Further, we investigated whether these relationships were mediated by central fat distribution. Participants were 1138 adults (937 without diabetes) in the Midlife in the US study (MIDUS II). Glucose metabolism was characterized by fasting glucose, insulin, insulin resistance (HOMAIR), glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c), prediabetes, and diabetes status. Multivariate-adjusted analyses showed that stress eating was associated with significantly higher nondiabetic levels of glucose, insulin, insulin resistance, and HbA1c as well as higher odds of prediabetes or diabetes. Relationships between stress eating and all outcomes were no longer statistically significant once waist circumference was added to the models, suggesting that it mediates such relationships. Findings add to the growing literature on the relationships among psychosocial factors, obesity, and chronic disease by documenting associations between stress eating and objectively measured health outcomes in a national sample of adults. The findings have important implications for interventive targets related to obesity and chronic disease, namely, strategies to modify the tendency to use food as a coping response to stress.

Keywords: Diabetes; National study; Obesity; Stress eating.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Glucose / analysis
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology
  • Fasting
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Glycated Hemoglobin / analysis
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Prediabetic State / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • United States
  • Waist Circumference


  • Blood Glucose
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • Insulin