Examining associations between poor marital functioning and stress eating behaviors that exacerbate weight gain

Picture of cereal bowl with word stress spelled out in cereal letters

Stress eating contributes to being overweight. MPC Member Chalandra Bryant’s new project addresses the need for a shift in current thinking about (and to change current approaches to) programs aimed at reducing the risk for being over-weight and obese. Although stress is intricately tied to obesity, to date the implementation and evaluation of obesity prevention/intervention programs have been limited by ignoring potential proximal stressors such as family relations. Outdated paradigms fail to acknowledge how integral subsystems within the family can serve as agents for promoting or inhibiting stress, which in turn may exacerbate or ameliorate weight gain. This study differs greatly from studies of weight/obesity that focus on helping families prepare healthy meals together or even exercise together. Such studies, by their nature/structure, are working with family members who have positive relationships. This is the critical difference of this study: it focuses on couples experiencing relational discord. The goal is to examine associations between poor marital functioning, affect, and stress eating behaviors. Because African American’s report higher rates of marital dissatisfaction, including thinking about divorce, and higher rates of obesity than their White peers, the project will focus on this population. The researchers will test the effect that two competing interventions--(1) PREP, Prevention & Relationship Enhancement Program and (2) Virtual Reality (VR) Exposure to Nature--have on those associations. To accomplish this goal, they will collect pre- and post-intervention data about marital functioning, affect, and emotion-driven stress eating. Data will be collected in the form of questionnaires and ecological momentary assessments.

This project is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation