A comparison of perceived stress and body mass index in Hispanic and non-Hispanic college students

Luisa Ileana Garcia, University of Texas at El Paso


The Hispanic population in the United States is rapidly increasing and for this reason it is critical to better understand positive and negative factors that may impact the health of Hispanics. Past studies have focused mostly on physiological stress but fewer studies have examined possible differences in cognitively perceived stress. Past studies have suggested that stress reactivity may be lower among Hispanics; and that overall, females experience greater stress than males regardless of ethnicity. Other studies have shown that stress increases the likelihood of increased body mass index (BMI) and body fat accumulation. The purpose of this study was to compare perceived stress in a large sample of male and female Hispanic and non-Hispanic college age students. Data from 806 participants (441 students from the University of Texas at El Paso and 365 students from Eastern Illinois University) were analyzed. Participants completed an online questionnaire that included items such as ethnicity, age, gender, BMI, and the Perceived Stress Reactivity Scale. It was hypothesized that 1) as compared to males, females report higher levels of perceived stress; 2) as compared to Hispanics, non-Hispanics report higher levels of perceived stress, and gender and ethnicity interact such that male Hispanics report lowest levels of perceive stress; and 3) that for all participants, perceived stress predicts BMI. As compared to males, females had higher perceived stress scores. As compared to non-Hispanics, Hispanics subjects had lower levels of perceived stress. Contrary to our prediction, the interaction of gender and ethnicity was not significant. No association between perceived stress and BMI was observed. This study added to the small but growing literature on cognitively perceived stress. The findings suggested that regardless of ethnicity college-age females as compared to males are at greatest risk of perceived stress related problems, and that ethnicity does not protect females from this risk factor (no interaction between gender and ethnicity). Additional studies are needed to explore whether perceived stress is associated with physiological stress reactivity, and whether additional factors such as sleep and acculturation modify the influence of perceived stress on weight gain and BMI. Such studies could give us new approaches for the development of interventions and programs to reduce obesity.

Subject Area

Nutrition|Public health|Cognitive psychology|Hispanic American studies

Recommended Citation

Garcia, Luisa Ileana, "A comparison of perceived stress and body mass index in Hispanic and non-Hispanic college students" (2014). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1564673.