23 Apr, 2018

New research into the link between obesity and cortisol

This paper is very clear on the stress–cortisol–obesity links, along with associated alterations in circadian rhythms. It is absolutely fascinating. The research may not be specifically associated with infants, but the principles outlined here will surely apply to infants under constant stress with raised cortisol levels during the day, with also their levels rising further towards the end of the day; whereas normal levels for children not under stress in the home will be falling at this time: we know that.

 So the normal circadian rhythms associated with the ebb and flow of cortisol levels within normal daytime fluctuations are, it appears, being unnaturally ‘tampered with’, disrupted, by the on-going daily stresses that babies and toddlers experience in long hours in group care, with cortisol levels permanently raised and also continuing to rise later in the day at a time when they would be expected to fall. (Certainly for the 0 – 3 age group we know the double stress of separation from the mother along with the stress of group care itself is considerable).

So, this research shows there could possibly be, as a consequence of this disruption explained above, both the creation of new fat cells along with the likelihood of the actual growth of existing fat cells. This is of major concern as a near-certain early years contribution to the increase in obesity in the 21st century. 

I think here we have a very clear explanation as to why long hours in group care for babies and toddlers increases their likelihood of having a propensity to obesity – The body’s mechanisms as shown in this paper, indicate what is going on to make this outcome likely. I quote “ ….  if you experience chronic, continuous stress …. the resulting loss of normal circadian glucocorticoid oscillations will result in significant weight gain,”

I am pleased to find further academic research to back up the other papers I have been collecting together over the years on the worrying increase in obesity in the young of our population – which will very likely translate later into adult obesity. I believe this research highlights, and increases, understanding of a major contributory factor to this rise.

Summary paper

Full paper