Stress early in life leads to preference for comfort foods
According to new research presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, food and drinks as responses to stress can start to develop at a very early age. When a child is exposed to stress, the study found, he or she can develop anxiety and a preference for "comfort foods" as a way of dealing with it later in life. The increased preference for comfort foods—those eaten as an emotional response--was found to be influenced by hormonal responses to chronic stress in adulthood, especially among women.
In this study, rats were subjected to either stress or standard care during the first few days of life. Then the rats' anxiety and stress reactions as adults were measured. Over a four-day period, the researchers also tracked the rats' preference for comfort foods. The results showed that the animals exposed to early life stress exhibited increased adult anxiety, increased hormonal response to stress and increased preference for comfort foods.
The results could be used in the treatment of obesity patients to investigate potential early-life stress exposure. This, the researchers said, could be useful in creating a model to not only prevent stress exposure, but to also target people vulnerable to obesity during childhood.