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Obese Kids Produce More Stress Hormone Cortisol

Update Date: Dec 18, 2013 01:58 PM EST

Obesity may cause children to produce higher levels of stress hormones, a new study suggests.

New research reveals that obese children naturally produce higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than their normal weight counterparts.

Our bodies produce the hormone cortisol when we're stressed. The latest findings are worrying because cortisol and other stress hormones can accumluatein the blood and, over time, cause serious health problems.

"We were surprised to find obese children, as young as age 8, already had elevated cortisol levels," sad one of the study's authors, Erica van den Akker, MD, PhD, of Erasmus MC-Sophia Children's Hospital in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, said in a news release. "By analyzing children's scalp hair, we were able to confirm high cortisol levels persisted over time."

The latest study involved 20 obese children and 20 normal weight children. Researchers collected hair samples to measure long-term cortisol levels in the children. Researchers explain that hormone concentrations in hair reflect cortisol exposure over the course of about one month.

The findings revealed that obese children had an average cortisol concentration of 25 pg/mg in their scalp hair, compared to an average concentration of 17 pg/mg in the normal weight group.  

"Because this study took an observational approach, more research will determine the cause of this phenomenon," van den Akker said. "We do not know whether obese children actually experience more psychological stress or if their bodies handle stress hormones differently. Answering these key questions will improve our understanding of childhood obesity and may change the way we treat it."

The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

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