Childhood maltreatment may lead to adult obesity, claim UK experts

Childhood maltreatment may lead to adult obesity, claim UK experts

All children deserve to be well-treated and many parents are hyper-aware of how treatment of their children can affect them in later life, but what of weight problems?

Whilst the rise of obesity in adults is well-documented, and over a third of the population are affected, perhaps not so much at the forefront of people’s minds is the relationship between a child’s treatment in childhood and its relationship with food as an adult.

According to a study by Kings College London, 35% children who have been maltreated whilst growing up are more at risk of developing obesity issues compared to non maltreated children.

So why is this?

According to previous studies, there are some biological effects. Although more study is needed, it seems there is a link between maltreated individuals and the brain, which could include some of the effects below:


  • Appetite hormone – effects on the hormone that control appetite can cause a person to feel hungry when they don’t need to eat
  • An effect on the developing part of the brain that is linked to inhibition of feeding may be apparent
  • Sufferers of maltreatment can suffer with reduced immune systems, and may burn fewer calories due to fatigue and lowered activity levels.


A study in Boston Child and Adolescent Abuse in Relation to Obesity in Adulthood: The Black Women’s Health Study revealed that the risk ratio for a body mass index (BMI) over 30, which is classed as obese, was 1.29 in those who had been heavily abused in early life, as opposed to those who suffered no form of abuse.

The study concluded that there was an increased risk of obesity if a child was abused whilst growing up. Even though other factors were taken into account, such as mental health, reproductive history and other behaviours the data suggested strongly that adversity suffered in early life was a contributory factor to adult body size and weight.

Dr Andrea Danese, child and adolescent psychiatrist from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry and lead author of the King’s College study has claimed that if the association is as suggested by studies in animals, then it may be possible to modify the outcome with treatment.

She concludes: “Prevention of child maltreatment remains paramount and our findings highlight the serious long-term health effects of these experiences.”