Is experience of being bullied in childhood associated with midlife obesity?

29.09.2015

Stressful experiences influence how one’s immune and metabolic systems function. Stress and  maltreatment in childhood lead to persistent changes in  immune and inflammatory systems  can lead to adult disorders ( physical and psychological).Evidence show that maltreated children grow up to have higher inflammatory proteins and higher risk of obesity. Understanding the role of childhood stressors are key in preventing many adult disorders.

Bullying is a  common stressor  in childhood. Bullying occurs in the context of power imbalance.Victims show higher levels of anxiety ,depression, self harming  behaviour and even psychotic symptoms. Victim’s cognitive and socio economic outcomes are also negatively affected.

R. Takizawa, A. Danese1, B. Maughan and L. Arseneault ( from UK and Japan) explored whether being bullied in childhood increase the risk of midlife inflammation and adiposity.

Methods

They used a 50 yr  prospective British cohort ( national child development study 1958)  to examine this relationship.Exposure to bullying was assessed via parental interviews when participants were 7 and 11 yrs. 28% of children had been exposed to occasional bullying with 15% bullied frequently. Inflammatory markers and BMI were assessed at age 45.

Childhood BMI, IQ, childhood adversity and  adult life style factors ( e.g. smoking) were likely to confound the relationship and hence such data were also collected.

Results

Individuals who had been frequently bullied in childhood showed higher levels of inflammation  ( CRP levels) at mid-life than non-bullied participants.

Individuals (both men and women)  who had been bullied in childhood showed greater waist:hip ratio at mid-life than non bullied individuals.

Those who were bullied  had lower birth weight and BMI at age 7 years than those who had not been bullied.  They also had lower IQ scores; and they experienced greater socio-economic disadvantage as they were growing up.

Those bullied in childhood were in lower social class occupations  and showed higher rates of affective disorders than their non-bullied peers

Bullying in childhood was still associated with higher CRP levels in middle age after adjusting for the  confounders.   Higher obesity and BMI in women who were bullied also remained significant after such adjustments.

Conclusions

Those who experienced bullying  in childhood  have higher inflammation levels than non-bullied peers.

Women who had been bullied are more likely to be obese decades later.

Comments 

This study adds to the growing literature on the role of childhood adversity on adult outcomes.The study strengthen our understanding of biological routes through which psychosocial adversity exerts its toxic influence. This also ask a serious question: Are we doing enough to prevent bullying in schools and homes? 

Summary of the article:

Bullying victimization in childhood predicts inflammation and obesity at mid-life: a five-decade birth cohort study. Takizawa R, Danese A, Maughan B, Arseneault L. Psychol Med. 2015 Oct;45(13):2705-15

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