Researchers from one of Stockholm’s top universities, the Karolinska Institute, believe that more than 140,000 women in the city regularly comfort eat, alongside around 40,000 men.
They define the trend as rising numbers of people reaching for food when they feel stressed, tired, depressed or lonely – a move which they say can lead to greater mental health problems and obesity.
“Comfort eating seems to be a serious problem that affects both men and women,” Jennie Ahrén a researcher at Karolinska Institute told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyeter.
“It involves many individuals and probably there are even more than we managed to capture in the study,” she added.
The research suggests that 13 percent of Stockholmers comfort eat – more than 1 in 10 people based in the Swedish capital, which is home to around a million residents.
The victims are three times more likely to be obese, compared with the general population and mental illness is almost three times as common among this group.
Researchers said they also found a clear relationship between comfort eating and suicide rates.
They concluded that young, old, married and single people were equally as likely to be comfort eaters.
“It can become a vicious circle. With obesity, we eat more and feel even worse. Then if there is anxiety and depression that makes you comfort eat [even more],” said Ahrén.
“Care must now be taken to stop this spreading and find the groups at risk – early,” she added.
“The most important thing is that you get treatment at an early stage”.
The number of obese people in Sweden has doubled over the past decade although the figure still relatively low compared to other developed countries.
About 12 percent of the population is overweight, compared to almost 30 percent in the US, according to the OECD.
On average, Swedes live until they are almost 82, two years longer than the global average.