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Reducing stress can help consumers make healthier food choices, study suggests

Experts found that stress interventions were a helpful inroad to better health

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Photo (c) Vadym Petrochenko - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Ohio State University has explored the link between stress and consumers’ diet choices

According to their findings, reducing stress can help consumers eat fewer fried foods. Participants in the study were enrolled in a stress-reduction program that encouraged them to engage in physical activity and eat healthier. At the end of 16 weeks, participants reported having lower stress levels and eating fewer fried foods. 

“We raised their awareness about stressors in their lives, and unfortunately a lot of these problems are not within their control,” said researcher Mei-Wei Chang. “So we teach them ways to control their negative emotions -- remember that this is temporary, and you can get through it. And give them confidence to look to the future.” 

The link between stress and diet

For the study, the researchers had over 330 women with obesity involved in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). All of the women had children, were between the ages of 18 and 39, and were struggling financially. The researchers explained that the women were dealing with many life stressors and struggled to make healthy choices. 

“Many of these women are aware of feeling impatient, and having head and neck pain and trouble sleeping -- but they don’t know those are signs of stress,” Chang said. 

Over the course of the 16-week program, the group participated in several activities, including watching videos that were meant to inspire them to be healthier while also reducing stress. They also engaged in support groups that allowed them to talk about their daily stressors and listened to other women speak about the benefits of adopting healthy habits and lowering stress. 

“We used the women’s testimonies in the videos and showed their interactions with their families to raise awareness about stressors,” Chang said. “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.” 

At the end of the study, the researchers analyzed the participants’ stress and dietary habits. While stress wasn’t eliminated entirely, the participants reported lower levels of stress and improved diets. 

Making healthier choices

Moving forward, the researchers hope that more consumers understand the links between stress and diet. Knowing how to manage stress can be beneficial in also making healthier diet choices. 

“It’s not that these women don’t want to eat healthier,” said Chang. “If you don’t know how to manage stress, then when you are so stressed out, why would you care about what you eat?” 

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