Is Child Abuse Associated with Adolescent Obesity? A Population Cohort Study

Katherine Hawton*, Tom Norris, Esther Crawley, Julian P H Shield

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
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BACKGROUND: Child abuse is associated with obesity in adulthood through multiple mechanisms. However, little is known about the relationship between abuse and obesity during adolescence. The aim of this study was to investigate, using a birth cohort, whether there is an association between child abuse and overweight or obesity in adolescence.

METHODS: This study utilizes data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a prospective cohort study based in South West England. Using data from the 4205 children with complete data at 13 and 16 years, we analyzed body mass index (BMI) and anonymous parental report of abuse. Abuse was categorized as emotional, physical, or sexual. A sub-sample of 3429 had BMI recorded at 18 years, enabling a longitudinal analysis of BMI trajectories.

RESULTS: Using linear and logistic regression analysis, adjusting for sex and family adversity, no association was found between child abuse and BMI, BMI Z-scores, overweight, or obesity, at 13 or 16 years, with all confidence intervals straddling the null. There was weak evidence of a negative association between physical and emotional abuse and BMI trajectories between 13 and 18 years.

CONCLUSIONS: No relationship was found between child abuse and adolescent obesity in this cohort. This challenges the assumption that adolescent obesity is linked to previous child abuse, as demonstrated for obesity in adult life. A further longitudinal study utilizing both parental and child reports with data record linkage, to improve reporting of abuse, and including neglect as an abuse category, would be desirable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-113
Number of pages8
JournalChildhood Obesity
Issue number2
Early online date1 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


  • abuse
  • adolescence
  • obesity
  • overweight


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  • NIHR BRC Nutrition

    Ness, A. R.


    Project: Research, Parent

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