The association between childhood sexual and physical abuse with incident adult severe obesity across 13 years of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health

Pediatr Obes. 2014 Oct;9(5):351-61. doi: 10.1111/j.2047-6310.2013.00196.x. Epub 2013 Sep 20.


Background: Severe obesity has increased, yet childhood antecedents of adult severe obesity are not well understood.

Objective: Estimate adult-onset severe obesity risk in individuals with history of childhood physical and/or sexual abuse compared with those who did not report abuse.

Methods: Longitudinal analysis of participants from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (n = 10,774) wave II (1996; aged 12-22 years) followed through wave IV (2008-2009; aged 24-34 years). New cases of adult-onset severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] ≥ 40 kg/m2 using measured height and weight) in individuals followed over 13 years who were not severely obese during adolescence (BMI <120% of 95th percentile Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics growth curves).

Results: The combined occurrence of self-reported sexual and physical abuse during childhood was associated with an increased risk of incident severe obesity in adulthood in non-minority females (hazard ratio [HR; 95% Confidence Interval] = 2.5; 1.3, 4.8) and males (HR = 3.6; 1.5, 8.5) compared with individuals with no history of abuse.

Conclusion: In addition to other social and emotional risks, exposure to sexual and physical abuse during childhood may increase risk of severe obesity later in life. Consideration of the confluence of childhood abuse might be considered as part of preventive and therapeutic approaches to address severe obesity.

Keywords: Childhood maltreatment; United States; severe obesity; young adult.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health Services*
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods
  • Depression / complications*
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Life Change Events*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Obesity, Morbid / epidemiology
  • Obesity, Morbid / etiology
  • Obesity, Morbid / psychology*
  • Obesity, Morbid / therapy
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Weight Reduction Programs / methods

Associated data

  • GENBANK/HD050924