Stress Levels in U.S. Increase 30 Percent

By Amir Khan on June 15, 2012 9:32 AM EDT

Obesity
Stress levels have increased by 30 percent, which could help explain the obesity epidemic, according to a new study (Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble)

Stress levels have increased over the past 30 years, and if you're a young woman with a low education level or a low income, you're among the most stressed in the country, according to a new study, published in the June issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The study marks the first time researchers have been able to track stress levels over time. Over 2,000 people reported their stress levels in 1983, 2006 and 2009 and since the first report, people are feeling 30 percent more stressed, according to the study. Younger people are feeling the brunt of it.

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"The data suggest there's been an increase in stress over that time," Dr. Sheldon Cohen, study author and professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, told USA Today. "Thirty-year-olds have less stress than 20-year-olds, and 40-year-olds have less stress than 30-year-olds."

In addition, women and minorities were reported higher stress than other groups. The unemployed also reported high stress levels.

Researchers said the increased stress levels could explain the prevalence of health issues such as diabetes and obesity.

"We know that stress contributes to poorer health practices, increased risk for disease, accelerated disease progression and increased mortality," Cohen, told CBS News. "Differences in stress between demographics may be important markers of populations under increased risk for physical and psychological disorders."

While the study did not conclude what caused stress levels to increase, Dr. David Spiegel, director of the Center on Stress and Health at Stanford University School of Medicine, said the recession and technology could be to blame.

"Economic pressures are greater, and it's harder to turn off information, and it's harder to buffer ourselves from the world," he told USA Today.

Cohen noted that the first survey was done over the phone while the second and third were conducted online, which could skew the results.

"It's hard to say if people are more stressed now than before because the first survey was conducted by phone and the last two were done online," he told CBS News. "But, it's clear that stress is still very much present in Americans' lives, putting them at greater risk for many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders."

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