Objective: Chronic cortisol exposure is hypothesized to contribute to obesity. This study examined associations between hair cortisol concentrations, a novel indicator of long-term cortisol exposure, and adiposity in a large population-based sample.
Methods: Data were from 2,527 men and women aged 54 and older (98% white British) participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Hair cortisol concentrations were determined from the scalp-nearest 2 cm hair segment, and height, weight, and waist circumference were objectively measured. Covariates included age, sex, socioeconomic status, smoking status, diabetes, and arthritis.
Results: In cross-sectional analyses, hair cortisol concentrations were positively correlated with weight (r = 0.102, P < 0.001), BMI (r = 0.101, P < 0.001), and waist circumference (r = 0.082, P = 0.001) and were significantly elevated in participants with obesity (BMI ≥30 kg/m2 ) (F = 6.58, P = 0.001) and raised waist circumference (≥102 cm in men, ≥88 cm in women) (F = 4.87, P = 0.027). Hair cortisol levels were also positively associated with the persistence of obesity (F = 12.70, P < 0.001), evaluated in retrospect over 4 years.
Conclusions: Chronic exposure to elevated cortisol concentrations, assessed in hair, is associated with markers of adiposity and with the persistence of obesity over time.
© 2017 The Authors. Obesity published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of The Obesity Society (TOS).