Women who experienced physical abuse in childhood are more prone to obesity

Research reveals that maltreatment during childhood were associated with 47% greater likelihood of being overweight in adulthood

Women with a history of childhood physical abuse are more likely to become obese adults, says a new study by University of Toronto researchers.

Results indicate that women who were physically abused in childhood were more likely to be obese than women from non-abusive homes.

"After adjusting for age and race, childhood physical abuse was associated with 47 per cent higher odds of obesity for women" says lead author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair in the University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. "Among men, obesity wasn't associated with childhood physical abuse."

Study co-author and doctoral student Deborah Sinclair said: "We had anticipated that the association between childhood physical abuse and obesity among women would be explained by factors including depression and anxiety, adult socio-economic position, alcohol abuse, and other childhood adversities, such as having a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol."

"However, even after taking into account all these factors, women from physically abusive families still had 35 per cent higher odds of obesity," Sinclair said.

The study could not determine the reason for the relationship between childhood physical abuse and women's obesity.

"It is unclear why childhood physical abuse is associated with adult obesity among women but not men; it may reflect gender differences in coping mechanisms," says study co-author and doctoral candidate Sarah Brennenstuhl.

This research appears online this month in the journal Obesity Facts.

Researchers examined the association between childhood physical abuse and adult obesity in a representative sample of 12,590 adults, drawn from the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey. Of these, 976 reported being physically abused by someone close to them before they turned 18 and 2,786 were classified as "obese" based on a body mass index of 30 or greater which was calculated from self-report of respondents' height and weight.