Gender differences in the impact of stressful life events on changes in body mass index

Prev Med. 2014 Dec;69:49-53. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.08.036. Epub 2014 Sep 7.


Objective: The positive association between stress and weight has been consistently demonstrated, particularly in women. The effect of stress on changes in weight, however, is less clear.

Methods: A total of 33,425 participants in Wave 1 and Wave 2 surveys of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Condition (NESARC) were included in this study. The study examined the relationship between stressful life events during the 12months prior to the Wave 2 interview and changes in body mass index (BMI) between Wave 1 and Wave 2 interviews.

Results: Women reported significantly greater increases in BMI than men. Stressful life events, particularly job-related changes, legal problems, and death of family or friends, were associated significantly with increases in BMI among women but not men.

Conclusions: In a nationally representative sample, stressful life events were associated with greater weight gain in women. Prevention of weight gain in women should focus on the behavioral and physiological mechanisms underlying female-specific effects of stressful life events on weight gain.

Keywords: BMI; Gender differences; Obesity; Stress; Weight gain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Factors*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Weight Gain* / ethnology