Big Temper, Big Waistline?

( [email protected] ) Mar 24, 2004 03:11 PM EST

A recent study has found that teens who cannot manage their anger are at higher risk for weight gain than those who do.

Discussing the study’s results at the American Heart Association's annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease, researchers stated that problems expressing anger can translate into eating disorders and increased weight, which leads to a high risk of cardiovascular disease at a young age.

Association stronger in girls

In the mid-1990s, investigators at the University of Texas conducted a pilot study called

Project HeartBeat! The project followed children aged 8 to 18 to observe the development of cardiac structure and function in adolescence.

As part of the study, the researchers followed the eldest children—a group of 160 (14 to 17 year-olds)—for three years and found a strong association between body mass index (BMI) and internalized anger in teenagers. The association was stronger in girls than in boys.

Researchers measured BMI 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. "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.

Anger higher with greater BMIs

The scientists 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 BMIs. None of the STAXI variables differed by gender or ethnicity.

The scientists believe that much of the growing childhood obesity problem is not just about diet and exercise—although it is certainly a large part of it. They suggest that it is important to look at the emotional health of children. Those 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 and healthier eating habits.