Chronic Stress and Impulsive Risk-Taking Predict Increases in Visceral Fat over 18 Months

Publication University of California, San Francisco

Ashley E. Mason, Samantha Schleicher, Michael Coccia, Elissa S. Epel, Kirstin Aschbacher

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2018 May;26(5):869-876.


Objective: The aim of this study was to examine whether baseline chronic stress and impulsive risk‐taking synergistically predict changes in visceral fat among healthy mothers in an observational, longitudinal, 18‐month study.

Methods: A prospective cohort of 113 adult women (age, mean ± SD: 42.83 ± 4.70; BMI, mean ± SD: 24.86 ± 4.32; 74%, n = 84 white) completed assessments at baseline and 18‐month follow‐up. Chronically stressed mothers caring for a child with an autism spectrum disorder (“caregivers”; n = 72 participants) were compared with lower stress mothers caring for a neurotypical child (“controls”; n = 41). This study objectively assessed impulsive risk‐taking by using the Behavioral Analog Risk Task at baseline and assessed visceral fat at baseline and 18‐month follow‐up by using bioelectrical impedance (ViScan; Tanita Corporation, Tokyo, Japan).

Results: The interaction of baseline chronic caregiving stress and impulsive risk‐taking predicted an 18‐month change in visceral fat, such that greater impulsive risk‐taking was associated with greater 18‐month increases in visceral fat among caregivers (ß = 0.423; P = 0.005) but not among controls (ß = −0.030; P = 0.802), both in unadjusted models and after accounting for covariates. Neither chronic stress nor impulsive risk‐taking independently predicted 18‐month changes in visceral fat.

Conclusions: The combination of high chronic stress and high impulsive risk‐taking may increase risk for visceral fat gain over time and therefore may be an important intervention target in obesity prevention.