Psychological distress may be the reason people on lower incomes are more likely to become obese. A new study has found emotional eating to cope with stress may play a huge role in the rise in obesity rates.
The study was conducted by the University of Liverpool and Edith Cowan University (ECU). Researchers wanted to investigate the link between lower socioeconomic status (SES) and obesity. For the study, the team had close to 150 participants from North West England complete questionnaires to measure their levels of resilience, psychological distress and emotional eating. The participants also shared data on their education level and income to determine their socioeconomic status. The team also made notes on each participants' height, weight and body mass index (BMI).
The results showed lower SES was linked with higher psychological distress, and higher distress linked with higher emotional eating, which made the BMI higher. However, psychological distress was not the only factor that contributed to the link between SES and BMI.
"Our findings suggest that experiencing psychological distress associated with living in lower socio-economic circumstances is associated with emotional eating to cope which in turn is associated with obesity," lead author of the study Dr Charlotte Hardman told a news portal. Adding, "The reason for socioeconomic disparities in obesity levels is often attributed to the greater availability of low cost, calorie dense foods in more deprived areas relative to more affluent neighbourhoods."
Dr Hardman noted: "However, there is limited evidence for an association between local food environments and obesity, indicating psychological and emotional factors may also play a role."
Researchers believe how people cope with stress is the reason for this association. "This finding suggests that it is not distress per se, but people's coping strategies for dealing with distress that may be critical in explaining the link between socioeconomic disadvantage and body weight."
The study also found higher SES was also linked to emotional eating. "It is, therefore, possible that participants with higher SES may be eating in response to other emotions not directly related to coping with distress, for example, boredom," Dr Joanne Dickson from ECU told a news portal. Adding, "Almost 2 in 3 Australian adults were recorded as being overweight or having obesity in 2014-15, and in England 61 per cent of adults were recorded as being overweight or having obesity in 2016. The high prevalence of obesity in many countries worldwide is a major concern, and the development of effective intervention and preventive approaches is at the forefront of national health agendas."
Dr Dickson says the study's findings give more insight into obesity issues, as well as gives rise to more question. "This study indicates an important role for psychological and emotional factors in eating behaviour and body weight regulation, particularly for those of lower SES, " he told a news portal. Adding, "Further, it is less clear what factors explain the emotional eating for those of higher SES."
The study's findings were published in the journal Obesity.