In the United States, pediatric obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years, particularly among certain racial/ethnic groups including Latinos and African-Americans. This disparity is partially attributable to greater exposure to psychological stress reported in these two groups (relative to non-Latino whites). Chronic psychological stress leads to weight gain directly through prolonged exposure to biological stress mediators such as cortisol and indirectly through behavioral pathways involving cortisol-induced increases in food consumption. An exciting arena of scientific advancements is focusing on identifying the specific pathways through which chronic stress influences eating behavior with emerging evidence to suggest that food intake, which is commonly increased during periods of stress, may serve as one key mechanism linking stress and obesity. This may be particularly true in the case of Latino and African-American youth who are disproportionately exposed to chronic stress and have greater access to, and consumption of, energy-dense palatable foods. It is critical to advance understanding of the interplay between stress and food intake in understanding racial/ethnic disparities in pediatric obesity because stress eating represents a modifiable health behavior. That is, increased food intake during periods of elevated stress can be targeted for intervention in ways that may ameliorate the deleterious effects of stress on obesity risk. This project seeks to investigate the role of stress eating as a pathway linking chronic stress and obesity in Latino, African-American, and non-Latino white adolescents. This innovative research study will help to elucidate the interdependent relationships between stress and eating behaviors that shape disparities in pediatric obesity. This project is funded by University of Michigan Nutrition Obesity Research Center.
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