For those who reach for a cookie when times get tough, stress may take a toll on the waistline, a Finnish study suggests. Researchers found that for people who said stress often drove them to eat, the comfort food of choice tended to be greasy, salty or sweet. Not surprisingly, such "stress-driven" eaters, particularly women, weighed more on average.
The researchers looked at 5,150 individuals at four points in their lives--birth and ages 1, 14 and 31. At age 31, the participants' body mass index, eating habits and methods of coping with stress were studied. Those who said they often or sometimes tried to make themselves feel better by eating and drinking were designated as stress-driven eaters. These individuals were more likely than others to frequently eat pizza, hamburgers, sausages and chocolate. They also drank more alcohol.
For both men and women, body mass index was higher among stress-driven eaters than others. For women, obesity was associated with eating to cope with stress. Men were more likely to eat in the face of stress if they were single, divorced or frequently unemployed. Among women, those who felt a lack of emotional support in their lives had a greater tendency to eat to cope with stress.
The researchers conclude that efforts to prevent or treat obesity should address the ways in which people cope with stress.
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