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Gender, stressful life events and interactions with sleep: a systematic review of determinants of adiposity in young people
  1. Annalijn I Conklin1,2,
  2. Sherry XR Guo3,
  3. Alexander CT Tam4,
  4. Christopher G Richardson2,5
  1. 1 Collaboration for Outcomes Research and Evaluation (CORE), Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  2. 2 Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences (CHÉOS), Providence Healthcare Research Institute, St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  3. 3 Behavioural Neuroscience Program, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  4. 4 Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  5. 5 School of Population and Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Annalijn I Conklin; annalijn.conklin{at}


Objectives Overweight and obesity among young people are high and rising. Social stressors and sleep are independently associated with obesity, but are rarely studied together or examined for gender-specific effects. The literature regarding adolescent populations is especially lacking. This review assesses whether experiencing stressful life events results in greater adiposity in young women and young men compared with those who do not experience stressful life events, and whether the relationship is modified by sleep problems.

Design We systematically searched six bibliometric databases (Web of Science, Embase Ovid, PsycINFO, CINHAL, PubMed, ProQuest Dissertations) supplemented by hand searches. Longitudinal prospective studies or reviews were eligible for inclusion when they examined gender-specific changes in adiposity in young adults (age 13–18 years) as a function of stressful life event alone or in combination with sleep problems.

Results We found one study eligible for inclusion reporting mixed impact of stressful life events on body mass index (BMI) between genders. The study assessed specific life events and showed significantly lower BMI at follow-up among young men who experienced a residence change, but significantly higher BMI among young women who experienced setting up a family and who reported internal locus of control.

Conclusions Despite ample research on social stressors or sleep problems and weight, we still know little about the role of stressful life events, or combined effects with sleep, on obesity risk in adolescents from a gender perspective. Existing evidence suggests specific life events affect weight differently between the genders. Robust, high-quality longitudinal studies to decipher this dual burden on obesity during adolescence should be prioritised, as firm conclusions remain elusive.

  • stressful life events
  • obesity
  • gender
  • adolescent
  • systematic review

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  • Contributors AIC and CGR conceived the study. ACTT and SXRG conducted the search, and extracted the data and quality assessed the included studies. AIC designed the study, informed study execution, interpreted data and led drafting. CGR, AIC, SXRG and ACTT revised the drafted paper critically for important intellectual content and all authors gave final approval of the version to be published.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional data are available.

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