Back to overview

Physiological stress measures in preschool children and their relationship with body composition and behavioral problems

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Messerli-Bürgy Nadine, Arhab Amar, Stülb Kerstin, Kakebeeke Tanja H., Zysset Annina E., Leeger-Aschmann Claudia S., Schmutz Einat A., Ehlert Ulrike, Kriemler Susi, Jenni Oskar G., Munsch Simone, Puder Jardena J.,
Project Children’s stress regulation capacity and mental health: the influence of parental factors and stress exposure
Show all

Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Developmental Psychobiology
Volume (Issue) 60(8)
Page(s) 1009 - 1022
Title of proceedings Developmental Psychobiology
DOI 10.1002/dev.21782


BACKGROUND: The relationship between physiological stress measures and body composition or behavioral problems in older children remains controversial, and data in young children are lacking. The aim of the study was to investigate this relationship in predominantly healthy preschool children. METHOD: Physiological stress measures were assessed using diurnal salivary alpha-amylase (sAA) and salivary cortisol, nail cortisol and parasympathetic activation (PNS) by overnight heart rate variability, and body composition (body mass index, skinfold thickness) and behavior problems (using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire) in 324 children aged 2-6 years of the SPLASHY study. RESULTS: Parasympathetic nervous system was inversely related to body fat, to emotional, and to peer problems. Diurnal sAA was related to hyperactivity problems and moderated the relationship of cortisol and hyperactivity problems. Cortisol was not related to any other health problems. DISCUSSION: The relationship of PNS with body composition and behavioral problems might highlight the protective role of the parasympathetic system early in life.