Objective: To examine whether baseline chronic stress, morning cortisol, and other appetite-related hormones (leptin, ghrelin, and insulin) predict future weight gain and food cravings in a naturalistic, longitudinal, 6-month follow-up study.
Methods: A prospective community cohort of 339 adults (age 29.1 ± 9.0 years; BMI = 26.7 ± 5.4 kg/m2 ; 56.9% female; 70.2% white) completed assessments at baseline and 6-month follow-up. Fasting blood draws were used to assess cortisol and other appetite-related hormone levels at baseline. At baseline and follow-up, body weight was measured, and the Cumulative Adversity Interview and Food Craving Inventory were administered. Data were analyzed using linear mixed models adjusting for demographic and clinical covariates.
Results: Over the 6-month period, 49.9% of the sample gained weight. Food cravings and chronic stress decreased over 6 months (Ps < 0.05). However, after adjusting for covariates, individuals with higher baseline total ghrelin had significantly higher food cravings at 6 months (P = 0.04). Furthermore, higher cortisol, insulin, and chronic stress were each predictive of greater future weight gain (Ps < 0.05).
Conclusions: These results suggest that ghrelin plays a role in increased food cravings and reward-driven eating behaviors. Studies are needed that examine the utility of stress reduction methods for normalizing disrupted cortisol responses and preventing future weight gain.
© 2017 The Obesity Society.