Is obesity linked to childhood abuse?

New research has suggested childhood abuse might be connected to obesity in later life. Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study found such events could serve to alter health behaviours and coping strategies that lead to an individual putting on weight years down the line.

Investigators from Boston University School of Medicine and Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center based their results in the ongoing Black Women's Health Study in the US and discovered the likelihood of a female being excessively overweight was around 30 per cent higher for those who had suffered physical and sexual harm than those who had not.

Rene Boynton-Jarrett, a Pediatric Primary Care Physician at Boston Medical Center - which is a private, not-for-profit facility - noted: "Ultimately, greater understanding of pathways between early life abuse and adult weight status may inform obesity prevention and treatment approaches."

She added another contributor could be the metabolic and hormonal disruptions that result from abuse.

Chartered Psychologist Dr Abigael San comments:

"It is encouraging when research supports existing hypotheses and helpful when links are made between risk factors and outcomes, as possible treatment options may be better understood. The link between childhood abuse and excessive weight gain in later life may guide exploration in therapy more closely towards understanding the function of overeating as a coping mechanism for earlier conflicts and/or current emotional distress. Eating may serve to comfort, soothe and protect us at times of stress or even facilitate distraction from difficult situations and mood states, being experienced as a familiar and reliable antidote to emotional pain.

"Awareness of the previous perceived adaptive function of overeating and the current redundancy or destructiveness of this behaviour may permit the relinquishing of over eating as a way of coping and foster openness to engagement in healthy management strategies, consistent with one's core values. Further research in this area would be welcomed."