July 05, 2012
1 min read

Sexual and physical abuse in childhood linked to adult obesity

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Childhood sexual and physical abuse was associated with an increased risk for overall and central obesity in adulthood, according to recent study results.

Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University, and colleagues investigated the association of physical and sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence with risk for adult obesity among 33,298 black women aged 21 to 69 years who were enrolled in the Black Women’s Health Study, an ongoing prospective cohort.

Women had reported their waist circumference at the level of the umbilicus in inches. The researchers considered adult BMI of at least 30 to be a marker of overall obesity and an adult waist circumference exceeding 35 inches to be a marker for central obesity. Exposure to abuse in childhood or as an adolescent was assessed using the Conflict Tactics Scale and the Pregnancy Abuse Assessment Screen. The researchers used log-binomial regression models to determine the associations between child and adolescent abuse with obesity and central adiposity.

Compared with those who reported no abuse, women who reported severe physical or sexual abuse (RR=1.17; 95% CI, 1.12-1.28) and those who reported severe physical and sexual abuse (RR=1.29; 95% CI, 1.20-1.38) had the highest risk for obesity. Women who reported severe physical and sexual abuse were also at greater risk for central obesity than women who experienced no abuse (RR=1.29; 95% CI, 1.19-1.38).

“Psychosocial stressors may impact responsiveness of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and neuroendocrine functioning,” the researchers wrote. “Moreover, empirical research consistently documents that racial/ethnic minorities and those residing in urban cities are at increased risk for witnessing violence and direct victimization. Therefore, it is plausible that exposure to violence is one pathway through which social inequalities in weight status are produced and maintained.”

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.