Sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy eating, lack of access to healthier foods and poverty have been factors in African-American women having the highest obesity rates in the country, but a recent study believes that past childhood abuse may also be to blame.
Researchers from Boston University found that higher levels of physical or sexual abuse may be linked to obesity in adult African-American women. Now, this connection isn't specific to African-American women, past studies have found that abuse has been linked to obesity in women from other races and ethnicities. This particular study is the first large scale study on Black women.
The researchers used the Black Women’s Health Study, an ongoing study begun in 1985. 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.
“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.
Researchers also believe that using food to cope with past trauma is another way that childhood abuse is linked to adult obesity. And they suggest that children's' parents and caretakers should definitely be paying attention to signs of abuse in children for only for their mental health, but for the physical health as well.
It’s estimated that about 1 in 4 young women have experienced physical or verbal abuse when dating and of those young women, Black and other women of color have the highest risk.
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