Stressful Life Events and Adolescent Weight Trajectories

Kristina L Zeiser, Pennsylvania State University
Molly A. Martin, Pennsylvania State University
Claudia L Nau, Pennsylvania State University

We examine the association between the experience of stressful life events and subsequent changes in body weight during adolescence using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Drawing from hypotheses put forward by Dohrenwend and Dohrenwend (1981), we examine whether (1) stressful life events directly lead to weight gain or (2) being overweight predisposes people to experiencing stressful life events, leading to further weight gain. Multivariate regression results support the second hypothesis for females. First, adolescent girls who were heavier at Wave 1 were more likely to experience a stressful life event. Second, there is an interaction between weight at Wave 1 and the experience of stressful life events for adolescent girls: among girls who were underweight or normal weight, experiencing an external stressor is negatively correlated with weight gain. However, experiencing an external stressor is positively correlated with weight gain for adolescent girls who were overweight at Wave 1.

Presented in Session 73: Adolescent Health and Wellbeing in Developed Countries