Strain and weight change

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Christine L. Himes


Obesity, Weight change, Strain, Social status, Health behaviors

Subject Categories

Medicine and Health | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


The United States is in the midst of an "obesity epidemic." The majority of adults are now overweight or obese. This research takes a new look at why people change their body weight. There are three research questions driving this work. Does strain lead to weight change? If so, do social variables moderate that weight change? If health behaviors add information about this relationship, are they also moderated by the social variables? The results may lead to different weight loss strategies than those previously recommended. I propose that the reason for the inability of many individuals to lose weight and keep the weight off (both initially and after weight loss) is strain, and that success with weight control is related to social variables. No one has previously explicitly and empirically examined the strain and obesity relationship.

I present what researchers have learned about strain and weight change, describing: how body size is measured and the paradigms researchers use when studying body size; the inability of people to control body size; and the unequal and corresponding distribution of both body size and strain. I chose the "Aging, Status, and Sense of Control" (ASOC) data set that was collected in 1995, 1998, and 2001. How the data was cleaned is explained here with a clarification of how the choice of which variables to include, the indexes/scales that were used and which variables would be used separately was arrived at. Next, the bi-variate analysis is discussed with an elucidation of how the decisions were made to construct the multi-variate models for this research.

I examine the relationships between the five forms of strain (physical ailments, financial strain, job strain, marital strain, and interpersonal strain) and weight change, my first hypothesis. The results are mostly what I expected, that strain does lead to weight change, but there are a few exceptions noted in more detail. Next, age, race, gender, household income, years of education, employment status, and marital status are examined for interaction with the perceived exposure to strain to determine if and how a person's weight would change when they were exposed to strain. Here I learn that the social variables tend to act as independent variables that account for the association between the strains and weight change, not as moderators. Lastly, I explore the hypothesis that the social variables would moderate the effect of the health behaviors on weight change. What I found was that: few of the health behaviors directly effect weight change, and some of the social variables interact with the health behaviors to effect on body size, in ways that were not expected.


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