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Obesity Linked to Childhood Abuse

Update Date: Aug 14, 2013 12:53 PM EDT

Childhood physical abuse makes women, but not men, significantly more prone to obesity, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that women who were physically abused in childhood were more likely to be obese than women who were never abused.

"After adjusting for age and race, childhood physical abuse was associated with 47 percent higher odds of obesity for women" lead author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson said in a news release. "Among men, obesity wasn't associated with childhood physical abuse."

Initially, researchers hypothesized that the link between childhood physical abuse and obesity among women could be explained by factors like depression and anxiety, adult socio-economic position, alcohol abuse, and other childhood adversities, such as having a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol. However, after accounting for all those factors, researchers found that women from physically abusive families were still 35 percent more likely to become obese.

Researchers said that the study could not determine the reason for the link 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," study co-author and doctoral candidate Sarah Brennenstuhl said in a news release.

The study involved data from a representative sample of 12,590 adults, drawn from the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey. Overall, 976 participants 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.

The findings are published in the journal Obesity Facts.

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