Do childhood maltreatment increase obesity over the life course? Mol Psy.May.2014


Obesity is a global problem. In many countries one-third to half of the adult population is obese. Expanding our knowledge on prevention is the most important strategy to tackle this increasing problem.Energy balance regulation in humans may be significantly influenced by environmental influences starting in the prenatal period and continuing throughout childhood.  Stressful psychosocial experiences in childhood is associated with the development of obesity in non human primates. Evidence in humans remains heterogeneous. 

Danese and  Tan investigated whether maltreatment is associated with obesity risk. They did a meta-analysis of studies investigating the association between childhood maltreatment and obesity over the life-course. Studies with a definition of childhood adversities consistent with maltreatment  occurring before age 18 years and  obesity  assessment based on weight and height / waist circumference  and having  a control group with no maltreatment history and no obesity were included. Studies published up to  2012 were included.


41 studies  with a with a total of 190 285 participants were included in the meta analysis. There was significant heterogeneity across studies. Maltreated individuals were more likely to be obese (odds ratio (OR) = 1.36; 95% confidence interval (CI)= 1.26–1.47). This was the case whether maltreatment was measured through questionnaire , interview  or records . among abusive experience, emotional neglect was not associated with later obesity. Publication bias did not significantly affect these results.  The association was not explained by childhood or adult socio economic status of the participants. The association remained significant even after adjusting for current smoking ,current alcohol intake and current physical activity. However,  association between  maltreatment and obesity was non significant when the estimate was adjusted for current depression. NNT was calculated as  7 i.e. seven cases of maltreatment  needed to be prevented to avoid one case of obesity in the population.

Conclusion: Childhood maltreatment is associated with obesity. Stressful psychosocial experiences in child hood are potentially modifiable risk factors for obesity.

Comment: This adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting childhood origin of adult mental disorders.

Summary of the article:

Childhood maltreatment and obesitysystematic review and meta-analysis.

Danese A, Tan M. Mol Psychiatry. 2014 May;19(5):544-54



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