Researchers finally have proof of what many have suspected, and what others have experienced but had not data to back them up: high levels of physical or sexual abuse while they are young is linked to an increased risk of obesity among adult African American women.
Boston University researchers discovered the link between obesity and childhood abuse in the first study to ever look at enough African American to reach a statistically significant result.
The researchers used the Black Women’s Health Study, an ongoing study begun in 1985. In 2005, 33,298 women responded to questions about childhood physical or sexual abuse. Nearly 58% of the women reported at least one instance of abuse as a child or teen, and 11% reported severe physical or sexual abuse.
“Severe abuse was positively associated with depressive symptoms, smoking, body weight and inversely associated with being married and household income,” the researchers.
Not surprisingly, some researchers suggest that one plausible explanation for the link between childhood abuse and adult obesity may be that those who are experience abuse as children eat as part of their coping mechanism. Either the children eat to feel better or, in a more direct mechanism, the children eat in an attempt to make themselves less physically attractive to their abusers.
Childhood abuse is associated with negative health outcome besides obesity. “Severe abuse was positively associated with depressive symptoms, smoking, body weight and inversely associated with being married and household income,” the researchers wrote. One in 10 black women has experienced what would be considered severe abuse.
It should be obvious that one way to reduce not only obesity rates, but smoking and depression rates, may be to figure out ways to ensure that black women grow up in stable home environments devoid of abuse–whether that abuse occurs inside the home, or outside of it.