Problems controlling anger lead to weight gain for teens

02/24/04

American Heart Association meeting report

SAN FRANCISCO, March 5 – Teenagers who don't manage their anger, either by suppressing feelings, or the other extreme of losing one's temper, are at higher risk for weight gain than those who do, researchers said today at the American Heart Association's 44th annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.

"Problems expressing anger can translate into eating disorders and increased weight, which leads to a high risk of cardiovascular disease at a young age," said William H. Mueller, Ph.D., lead author of the study and professor of behavioral science at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, School of Public Health.

In the mid-1990s, investigators at the university conducted a pilot study in which they found a strong association between body mass index and internalized anger in teen-agers. The association was stronger in girls than in boys.

Project HeartBeat! is a longitudinal study of children aged 8 to 18 that observes the development of cardiac structure and function in adolescence. As part of the study, Mueller and colleagues followed the eldest children -- a group of 160 (14 to 17 year-olds) -- for three years. Most were white; about 20 percent were black.

Researchers measured body mass index (BMI), obtained by dividing height squared by weight, at baseline and during the study period. The teenagers also completed the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory (STAXI) to gauge anger levels, which measured "anger-in," "anger-out," "anger control" and "anger expression."

"Anger in" is not expressing feelings out of fear of what other people will think, Mueller said. "Anger out" is yelling, slamming doors and other aggressive behaviors. The "anger control "score measured the level of maturity and healthy expression of feelings. The "anger expression" score is calculated by adding the "anger in" score with the "anger out" score and dividing that number by the "anger control" score.

Researchers found that anger habits in a child tended to remain stable over time. However, average anger control scores increased over time and were higher in children with lower BMIs. Anger expression scores decreased over time but were higher in children with increasing BMI's. None of the STAXI variables differed by gender or ethnicity.

"Unhealthy ways of expressing anger are associated with overweight. 'Anger control' is a healthy way of expressing anger. You don't take things personally.

"Overweight kids have poor health behaviors, including anger expression, which may lead to increased weight, especially in girls," he said.

"These kids develop unhealthy ways of dealing with their emotions. They tend to isolate themselves, watch TV or read rather than connecting with their friends."

Children with high "anger control" scores acknowledge their feelings of anger, but are able to express those feelings appropriately. These children tend to have normal weights.

"It is not just 'anger in' or 'anger out,'" Mueller said. "We're suggesting that it is important to look at the emotional health of kids. It's beyond just diet and exercise. We need to look at the broader sociological picture. If they feel good about resolving interpersonal stress and learn to decrease conflict, these skills will spill over into their general lifestyle."

Co-authors are Riham Ismail, Wenyaw Chan, JoAnne Grunbaum and Shifan Dai.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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