When considering gender differences in weight gain during early adolescence,

When it comes to weight gain for women, childhood stress appears to be a bigger culprit than stress during adulthood, finds a national study led by a Michigan State University sociologist.

Interestingly, though, neither childhood nor adult stress was associated with weight gain for men.

The federally funded study, which appears online in the journal Social Science & Medicine, is the first to examine such lifelong consequences of stress on weight change.

“These findings add to our understanding of how childhood stress is a more important driver of long-term weight gain than adult stress, and how such processes differ for men and women,” said Hui Liu, MSU associate professor of sociology and an expert in statistics, population-based health and family science.

Liu and her longtime collaborator, Debra Umberson from the University of Texas, analyzed the data from the Americans’ Changing Lives, a national survey in which participants were interviewed four times in a 15-year period. The study encompassed 3,617 people (2,259 women and 1,358 men).

Childhood stress was measured on a range of family-related stressors that occurred at age 16 or younger such as economic hardship, divorce, at least one parent with mental health problem and never knowing one’s father. Adult stress included such factors as job loss, death of a significant other and parental and care-provider stress.

Liu said women who experienced higher levels of childhood stress gained weight more rapidly than women who experienced less childhood stress. Change in body mass is a process that unfolds throughout life, she noted, and childhood may be a critical period for establishing patterns that have a long-term impact on women’s weight over time.

As far as stress not significantly affecting men’s weight, Liu said men and women respond to stress differently.

It may be that women eat more to cope with stress, whereas men are more likely to engage in less weight-related strategies such as withdrawing or drinking alcohol, she said. Gender differences in depression may also help explain the difference. Depression is associated with emotion-driven eating and weight gain, and females are more likely than males to be depressed after adolescence.

The findings highlight the need for treatment and policies designed to reduce stress in childhood.

“Given the importance of body mass on health and disability,” Liu said, “it’s important that we consider the sex-specific social contexts of early childhood in order to design effective clinical programs that prevent or treat obesity later in life.”

The study was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Gender differences in nutritional behavior and weight status during early and late adolescence

Branka Askovic et al. Anthropol Anz. 2012 Jul.

Abstract

The current study aimed to determine gender differences in nutritional habits, eating behaviour, weight status, body image and weight control practices during early and late adolescence. 677 Viennese pupils (253 boys and 424 girls) between the ages 10 and 18 years (x = 14.1 yrs; +/- 2.2) were enrolled in the study. Weight status was determined by means of body mass index percentiles. To assess eating behavior, food preferences, body image and weight control practices, a 48 item questionnaire was developed. Significant gender differences in weight status were observable during late adolescence only. Girls are significantly less satisfied with their body weight. Furthermore, girls practice dieting and weight control to avoid any weight gain more frequently than boys. Gender differences in eating behavior intensified from early to late adolescence. From early to late adolescence, meal size decreased among girls, while it remains stabile or increased among boys. Boys eat generally more than girls. Furthermore, boys preferred meat and fast food while girls consumed fruits, vegetables and healthy food significantly more frequently. These gender differences are explained by gender specific energetic demands and culture typical beauty ideals.

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