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Childhood Abuse Tied to Higher Risk of Obesity

Update Date: Sep 02, 2014 11:23 AM EDT

Childhood abuse and trauma might be a risk factor for adult obesity, a new study reported. Researchers from Sweden's Karolinska Institutet found that children who experienced hardships early in life are more prone to developing certain health conditions, particularly obesity.

"The study clearly shows that difficult life events leave traces which can manifest as disease much later in life. The mechanisms behind this process include stress, negative patterns of thought and emotions, poor mental health, increased inflammation, as well as lowered immune function and metabolism," explained Erik Hemmingsson, researcher at the Huddinge Department of Medicine at Karolinska Institutet according to Medical Xpress.

The research team conducted a meta-analysis on 23 studies that involved 112,000 people. The researchers calculated the participants' risk of obesity based on different types of childhood trauma. Overall, people who were abused as children had a 34 percent greater risk of being obese in comparison to people who did not experience childhood abuse.

People who were subjected to physical abuse had a 28 percent increased risk of being obese. Emotional abuse, sexual abuse and general abuse increased risk of obesity by 36, 31 and 45 percent respectively. When the team compared severe abuse to moderate abuse, they found that the first led to a 50 percent increased risk of obesity whereas the latter was tied to a 13 percent increased risk.

"These findings indicate causality, where the abuse is the cause of the obesity later in life. However, not everyone who is subjected to abuse will develop obesity, and not all obese individuals have been abused, so there are obviously other causes too. At the same time, it is important to remember that child abuse is more common than we think, and it needs to be brought to light. Between five and ten per cent of the adult population say that they have been subjected to some form of abuse during childhood," Hemmingsson stated.

The study, "Effects of childhood abuse on adult obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis," was published in journal, Obesity Reviews.

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