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Associations between psychological stress, eating, physical activity, sedentary behaviours and body weight among women: a longitudinal study

Jennifer Mouchacca, Gavin R Abbott and Kylie Ball*

Author Affiliations

Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, VIC 3125, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:828  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-828

Published: 11 September 2013



There is an increased risk of obesity amongst socioeconomically disadvantaged populations and emerging evidence suggests that psychological stress may be a key factor in this relationship. This paper reports the results of cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses of relationships between perceived stress, weight and weight-related behaviours in a cohort of socioeconomically disadvantaged women.


This study used baseline and follow-up self-report survey data from the Resilience for Eating and Activity Despite Inequality study, comprising a cohort of 1382 women aged 18 to 46 years from 80 of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Victoria, Australia. Women reported their height (baseline only), weight, sociodemographic characteristics, perceived stress, leisure-time physical activity, sedentary and dietary behaviours at baseline and three-year follow-up. Linear and multinomial logistic regression were used to examine cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between stress (predictor) and weight, and weight-related behaviours.


Higher perceived stress in women was associated with a higher BMI, and to increased odds of being obese in cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Cross-sectional and longitudinal associations were found between stress and both less leisure-time physical activity, and more frequent fast food consumption. Longitudinal associations were also found between stress and increased television viewing time.


The present study contributes to the literature related to the effects of stress on weight and weight-related behaviours. The findings suggest that higher stress levels could contribute to obesity risk in women. Further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms underlying these associations. However, interventions that incorporate stress management techniques might help to prevent rising obesity rates among socioeconomically disadvantaged women.

Psychological stress; Eating; Physical activity; Sedentary behaviours; Body weight; Regression analyses