Endocrine Abstracts (2016) 45 OC8.6 | DOI: 10.1530/endoabs.45.OC8.6

Is abuse associated with adolescent overweight and obesity?: A population cohort study

Katherine Hawton2,3, Tom Norris1, Esther Crawley1 & Julian Hamilton-Shield2,3


1University of Bristol, Bristol, UK; 2NIHR BRU Nutrition, Bristol, UK; 3Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, Bristol, UK.


Background and Objectives: Abuse in childhood is associated with obesity in adult life. However, little is known about the relationship between abuse and obesity during childhood or adolescence. The aim of this study was to investigate, using a birth cohort study, whether there was an association between pre-adolescent child abuse and overweight and obesity in later childhood. We hypothesised that abuse and obesity may be associated.

Methods: Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which is a cohort involving 13978 children, we analysed BMI (body mass index) (kg/m2) at ages 13 and 16 years and repeated measures of parentally reported abuse up to 11 years of age. The sample in this analysis comprises 4205 adolescents with complete data for child abuse variables collected during childhood and BMI at both 13 and 16 years. Abuse was categorised as emotional, physical or sexual. In a sub-sample, a longitudinal analysis utilising serially-collected BMI measurements (at 13, 16 and 18 years) was conducted to identify whether abuse resulted in different trajectories of BMI during adolescence.

Results: Using linear regression analysis, adjusting for sex and family adversity, we found no significant association between child abuse of any kind and obesity or BMI z-scores at 13 or 16 years. The rate of reported abuse was 0.47% for sexual which was lower than previous figures, 5.6% for physical and 15.3% for emotional which were similar to previously reported rates. The longitudinal analysis revealed no significant association between childhood abuse and the pattern of BMI change during adolescence.

Conclusions: We did not find a relationship between pre-adolescent child abuse and adolescent obesity in this cohort. Furthermore, as these data were prospectively collected, we challenge the assumption that adolescent obesity is linked to previous child abuse as has been reported for obesity in adult life. Therefore, based on the findings of this study, paediatricians need not assume that pre-pubertal child abuse is a potential causal factor or consequence of childhood obesity. A further longitudinal study utilising both parental and child reports with data record linkage and including neglect, the fourth type of child abuse, would be desirable.

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