By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor
A new study suggests sexual and physical abuse during childhood and adolescence may influence obesity during adulthood.
Investigators reviewed the Black Women’s Health Study, an epidemiological study that has followed a large cohort of African-American women since 1995. Scientists assessed information provided in 2005 by more than 33,000 participants on early life experiences of abuse in relation to obesity.
Two measures were used to determine obesity: body mass index of 30 kg/m2 or more as a measure of overall obesity and waist circumference greater than 35 inches as a measure of central obesity.
Investigators discovered the risk of obesity in 2005 was approximately 30 percent greater among women in the highest category of physical and sexual abuse than in women who reported no abuse.
The association was dampened but not fully explained by allowance for reproductive history, diet, physical activity and depressive symptoms, which might have been intermediates between abuse and weight gain.
The findings support emerging research that suggests experiences during childhood may have long-term health consequences.
The finding from Boston University researchers is published in the journal Pediatrics.
“Abuse during childhood may adversely shape health behaviors and coping strategies, which could lead to greater weight gain in later life,” explained Renene Boynton-Jarrett, M.D., the lead investigator of the study and a pediatric primary care physician at Boston Medical Center.
Abuse can also affect an individual’s metabolic condition causing hormonal disruptions that may ultimately be a marker for other adversities, said Boynton-Jarrett.
“Ultimately, greater understanding of pathways between early life abuse and adult weight status may inform obesity prevention and treatment approaches.”
Boynton-Jarrett cautioned that further studies are needed to clarify just which factors are responsible for the association of abuse with obesity and noted there is a consensus that pediatric providers should screen for abuse.