People with lower incomes may be more likely to have obesity as a result of psychological distress that gives rise to emotional eating, recent findings suggest.
As part of the latest study, a team of researchers explored whether the relationship between lower socioeconomic status (SES) and obesity is explained by psychological distress and subsequent emotional eating as a coping strategy.
150 participants from North West England from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds completed questionnaires measuring psychological distress, emotional eating and resilience. They reported their income and education level as an indicator of socioeconomic status and their height and weight in order to calculate body mass index (BMI).
The findings were published in the Journal of Obesity.
Researchers found that lower SES was associated with higher psychological distress, and higher distress was associated with higher emotional eating, which in turn predicted higher BMI.
The study showed that psychological distress alone did not facilitate a relationship between lower SES and BMI.
According to the researchers, the findings suggest that experiencing psychological distress associated with living in lower socio-economic circumstances is associated with emotional eating to cope which in turn is associated with obesity.
“The reason for socioeconomic disparities in obesity levels is often attributed to the greater availability of low-cost, calorie-dense foods in more deprived areas relative to more affluent neighbourhoods. However, there is limited evidence for an association between local food environments and obesity, indicating psychological and emotional factors may also play a role,” said Charlotte Hardman, lead researcher of the study.
The study also revealed an unexpected finding. Higher SES was also associated with emotional eating. However, this pathway was not in response to significant psychological distress.
Researchers suggest that these findings indicate an important role for psychological and emotional factors in eating behaviour and body weight regulation, particularly for those of lower SES.