Stress and Obesity: Are There More Susceptible Individuals?

Curr Obes Rep. 2018 Jun;7(2):193-203. doi: 10.1007/s13679-018-0306-y.


Purpose of review: Stress has long been suspected to be interrelated to (abdominal) obesity. However, interindividual differences in this complex relationship exist. We suggest that the extent of glucocorticoid action partly explains these interindividual differences. We provide latest insights with respect to multiple types of stressors.

Recent findings: Increased long-term cortisol levels, as measured in scalp hair, are strongly related to abdominal obesity and to specific mental disorders. However, not all obese patients have elevated cortisol levels. Possibly, the interindividual variation in glucocorticoid sensitivity, which is partly genetically determined, may lead to higher vulnerability to mental or physical stressors. Other evidence for the important role for increased glucocorticoid action is provided by recent studies investigating associations between body composition and local and systemic corticosteroids. Stress may play a major role in the development and maintenance of obesity in individuals who have an increased glucocorticoid exposure or sensitivity. These insights may lead to more effective and individualized obesity treatment strategies.

Keywords: Corticosteroids; Cortisol; Glucocorticoid receptor; Glucocorticoid receptor polymorphisms; Hair cortisol; Obesity; Stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / agonists
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Pediatric Obesity / etiology*
  • Pediatric Obesity / genetics
  • Pediatric Obesity / metabolism
  • Pediatric Obesity / psychology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / agonists
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / genetics
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Hydrocortisone