Feel like you gain 10 pounds every time you go near a cookie, while your friend can eat 12 without gaining an ounce? Other than genetics, there's a new factor to blame: your childhood.
A new study from Michigan State University, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, found that childhood stress has a huge impact on weight gain in adult women, so much so that it outweighs adult stress. Researchers crunched the numbers from the Americans' Changing Lives survey, which talked to 3,617 people over a 15-year period.
They found that women who experienced higher levels of stress before age 16 (like divorced parents, not knowing a father, or hard economic times) gained weight faster as adults. The researchers say this might be because people establish lifestyle habits, like eating and exercising, at an early age and habits are tough to break.
Men didn't have the same connection between stress and weight gain, whether in childhood or adulthood. It's unclear why the gender difference is there, but the researchers have two main ideas. First of all, women are more likely to be depressed than men as adults, and that can lead to binge eating. Plus, women are more likely to eat when they're feeling stressed, while men are more likely to turn to things like alcohol.
The study concludes that public health workers should start intervening in childhood, and use different techniques for boys and girls. And as for the grown-ups out there, it can't hurt to stop and think about why you're struggling with your weight; tackling your mental health should come before that diet plan.
By Megan Friedman