Media Releases

Women who were physically abused during childhood more likely to be obese

August 13, 2013

TORONTO, ON – Women with a his­to­ry of child­hood phys­i­cal abuse are more like­ly to become obese adults, accord­ing to a new study by Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers.

Results indi­cate that women who were phys­i­cal­ly abused in child­hood were more like­ly to be obese than women from non-abu­sive homes.

“After adjust­ing for age and race, child­hood phys­i­cal abuse was asso­ci­at­ed with 47% high­er odds of obe­si­ty for women” says lead author Esme Fuller-Thom­son, Pro­fes­sor and San­dra Rot­man Endowed Chair in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work. “Among men, obe­si­ty wasn’t asso­ci­at­ed with child­hood phys­i­cal abuse.”

“We had antic­i­pat­ed that the asso­ci­a­tion between child­hood phys­i­cal abuse and obe­si­ty among women would be explained by fac­tors includ­ing depres­sion and anx­i­ety, adult socio-eco­nom­ic posi­tion, alco­hol abuse, and oth­er child­hood adver­si­ties, such as hav­ing a par­ent addict­ed to drugs or alco­hol,” says study co-author and doc­tor­al stu­dent Deb­o­rah Sin­clair. “How­ev­er, even after tak­ing into account all these fac­tors, women from phys­i­cal­ly abu­sive fam­i­lies still had 35% high­er odds of obe­si­ty.”

The study could not deter­mine the rea­son for the rela­tion­ship between child­hood phys­i­cal abuse and women’s obe­si­ty. “It is unclear why child­hood phys­i­cal abuse is asso­ci­at­ed with adult obe­si­ty among women but not men; it may reflect gen­der dif­fer­ences in cop­ing mech­a­nisms,” says study co-author and doc­tor­al can­di­date Sarah Bren­nen­stuhl.

This research appears online this month in the jour­nal Obe­si­ty Facts. Researchers exam­ined the asso­ci­a­tion between child­hood phys­i­cal abuse and adult obe­si­ty in a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of 12,590 adults, drawn from the 2005 Cana­di­an Com­mu­ni­ty Health Sur­vey. Of these, 976 report­ed being phys­i­cal­ly abused by some­one close to them before they turned 18 and 2,786 were clas­si­fied as “obese” based on a body mass index of 30 or greater which was cal­cu­lat­ed from self-report of respon­dents’ height and weight.

Online ver­sion of the study:


For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Prof. Esme Fuller-Thom­son
Pro­fes­sor & San­dra Rot­man Chair, Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work
Depart­ment of Fam­i­ly & Com­mu­ni­ty Med­i­cine, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, Tel: 011–44-7806–624499 (Cur­rent­ly in the UK)

Dominic Ali
Media Rela­tions Offi­cer, Tel: 416–978.6974