Stress reduction as path to eating less fast food

Stress reduction as path to eating less fast food

Overweight low-income mothers of young kids ate fewer fast-food meals and high-fat snacks after participating in a study - not because researchers told them what not to eat, but because the lifestyle intervention being evaluated helped lower the moms' stress, research suggests.

"We used the women's testimonies in the videos and showed their interactions with their families to raise awareness about stressors. After watching the videos, a lot of intervention participants said, 'This is the first time I've realized I am so stressed out' - because they've lived a stressful life," said Mei-Wei Chang, lead author of the study and associate professor of nursing at The Ohio State University.

The research results are published in Science Daily.

An analysis of the study data showed that the women's lowered perceived stress after participating in the intervention was the key factor influencing their eventual decrease in consumption of high-fat and fast foods.

The 338 participants, overweight or obese moms between the ages of 18 and 39, were recruited from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which serves low-income mothers and children up to age 5. Those eligible for the program must have an annual household income no higher than 185% of the federal poverty line.

During the trial, the 212 participants randomized into the intervention group watched a total of 10 videos in which women like them gave unscripted testimonials about healthy eating and food preparation, managing their stress and being physically active. Participants also dialed in to 10 peer support group teleconferences over the course of the study.

This newer analysis showed that the intervention's lessons alone did not directly affect that change in diet. When the researchers assessed the potential role of stress as a mediator, the indirect effect of the intervention - reducing participants' perceived stress - was associated with less consumption of high-fat foods, including fast food. A 1-point reduction in the scale measuring stress was linked to a nearly 7% reduction in how frequently the women ate high-fat foods.