Obesity risk for female victims of childhood sexual abuse: A prospective study

Jennie G. Noll, Meg H. Zeller, Penelope K. Trickett, Frank W. Putnam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

234 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE. Efforts are under way to articulate environmental, psychosocial, and biological conditions that may predispose the development and maintenance of obesity. There is increasing evidence that adverse childhood experiences such as childhood abuse may be implicated in the development of obesity. Given the dearth of prospective evidence for this link, the objective of this study was to track body mass across development (from childhood, through adolescence, and into young adulthood [ie, ages 6-27]) in a prospective, longitudinal study of abused and nonabused female subjects. METHODS. Height and weight were obtained for 84 female subjects with substantiated childhood sexual abuse and 89 demographically similar comparison female subjects at 6 points during development. Obesity status was examined at various stages during development, and body-mass growth trajectories were contrasted across the 2 groups. It was hypothesized that, in comparison with their nonabused peers, abused female subjects would be more likely to (1) manifest obesity by early adulthood and (2) manifest high-risk growth trajectories throughout development. RESULTS. Obesity rates were not different across groups in childhood or adolescence. By young adulthood (ages 20-27), abused female subjects were significantly more likely to be obese (42.25%) than were comparison female subjects (28.40%). Hierarchical linear modeling growth-trajectory analyses indicated that abused female subjects, on average, acquired body mass at a significantly steeper rate from childhood through young adulthood than did comparison female subjects after controlling for minority status and parity. CONCLUSIONS. Psychosocial difficulties (eg, depression) and psychobiological conditions (eg, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysregulation) that have been shown to be related to both childhood abuse and obesity may help to explain these results. The identification of high-risk growth trajectories may improve health outcomes for victims. Systematic study of the mechanistic pathways and mediating processes that would help to explain the connection between childhood sexual abuse and later obesity is encouraged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e61-e67
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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