To get one important point out of the way: This isn't unique to black women. An association between higher levels of childhood physical or sexual abuse and an increased risk of obesity has been found in previous studies. This is simply the first time that researchers have looked specifically at it in a large group of women who identify as African American, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Researchers from Boston University published their findings (based on the Black Women’s Health Study, an ongoing study begun in 1985) in the August journal of Pediatric. In 2005, 33,298 women responded to questions about childhood physical or sexual abuse. Nearly 58 percent of the women reported at least one instance of abuse as a child or teen, and 11 percent reported severe physical or sexual abuse. And "severe abuse," the study authors wrote, was "positively associated with depressive symptoms, smoking, body weight and inversely associated with being married and household income."
“Severe abuse was positively associated with depressive symptoms, smoking, body weight and inversely associated with being married and household income,” the researchers wrote.
Other behaviors, reproductive history and mental health explained adult obesity to some extent, the researchers said. And mechanisms linking childhood adversity with adult health are poorly understood, they said.
They suggest several plausible ways abuse and later obesity may be linked, including some that seem like common sense such as emotional eating to cope with the abuse rather than to fuel the body.
Obesity is a leading cause of preventable death; the study considered participants obese if they had a BMI — or body mass index, which is based on a height-weight ratio — of 30, and to have "central" obesity if they had a waist that measured more than 35 inches.
To us (and probably plenty of other people who aren't scientists), it's not at all surprising that child abuse would be connected to a whole host of negative outcomes, obesity inlcuded. What, if anything, can we do with the apparent confirmation of this link when it comes to protecting children or improving the black community's health?
Read more at the Los Angeles Times.