Children who are physically, sexually or emotionally abused or neglected are at greater risk for obesity later in life, a new review suggests.
British researchers found that abused children are 36% more likely to be obese as adults. They concluded that child abuse could be viewed as a modifiable risk factor for obesity.
"We found that being maltreated as a child significantly increased the risk of obesity in adult life," study author Dr Andrea Danese, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, said in a news release from King's College. "Prevention of child maltreatment remains paramount, and our findings highlight the serious long-term health effects of these experiences."
Link between child abuse and adult obesity
In conducting the study, the researchers examined data on more than 190 000 people enrolled in 41 studies around the world. They found the link between child abuse and adult obesity could not be explained by childhood or adult socioeconomic status, smoking, alcohol intake or level of physical activity.
Child abuse was also not associated with obesity among children or teens, the researchers added, suggesting the children were not abused because they were overweight or obese.
However, the researchers did find depression might explain why some abused children become obese as adults. They noted that additional research is needed to determine the effects of depression on the body, specifically the brain, hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism.
The study authors added that more research is needed to determine what treatment strategies would prevent abused children from becoming obese later in life.
"If the association is causal, as suggested by animal studies, childhood maltreatment could be seen as a potentially modifiable risk factor for obesity - a health concern affecting one third of the population and often resistant to interventions," Danese said.
While the study found an association between child abuse and obesity later in life, it did not prove cause and effect.
The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on obesity.