Women's experience of abuse in childhood and their children's smoking and overweight

Am J Prev Med. 2014 Mar;46(3):249-58. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.11.012.


Background: Smoking and overweight are principal determinants of poor health for which individual-level interventions are at best modestly effective. This limited effectiveness may be partly because these risk factors are patterned by parents' experiences preceding the individual's birth.

Purpose: To determine whether women's experience of abuse in childhood was associated with smoking and overweight in their children.

Methods: In 2012, data were linked from two large longitudinal cohorts of women (Nurses' Health Study II [NHSII], n=12,666) and their children (Growing Up Today [GUTS] Study, n=16,774), 1989-2010. ORs of children following higher-risk smoking trajectories and risk ratios (RRs) of children's overweight and obesity by their mother's childhood experience of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse were calculated. The extent to which mother's smoking and overweight, socioeconomic indicators, family characteristics, and child's abuse exposure accounted for possible associations was ascertained.

Results: Children of women who experienced severe childhood abuse had greater likelihood of higher-risk smoking trajectories (OR=1.40, 95% CI=1.21, 1.61), overweight (RR=1.21, 95% CI=1.11, 1.33), and obesity (RR=1.45, 95% CI=1.21, 1.74) across adolescence and early adulthood compared with children of women who reported no abuse. Mother's smoking and overweight and children's abuse exposure accounted for more than half of the elevated risk of following the highest-risk smoking trajectory and overweight in children of women abused.

Conclusions: These findings raise the possibility that childhood abuse may not only adversely affect the health of the direct victim but may also affect health risk factors in her children decades after the original traumatic events.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Overweight / epidemiology*
  • Overweight / etiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult