Study: Obesity in black women linked to childhood abuse

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An obese black woman

A new study has linked obesity in black women to abuse in childhood. (Photo: Fotolia)

New research has established a link between obesity in black women and sexual and physical abuse in childhood, according to the Los Angeles Times.

This study “was the first… to look at a large group of African American women for this association,” the newspaper states, “which has been found among women in previous studies, the researchers from Boston University said in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.”

Data culled from an ongoing project called the Black Women’s Health Study found that 11 percent of 33,298 women polled in 2005 had been severely sexually or physically abused; 58 percent had experienced at least one instance of maltreatment. (A previous study placed the rate of sexual abuse experienced by black women at 60 percent.)

Boston University researchers found that severe childhood abuse was associated with depression, smoking, and being overweight in adulthood. Marriage and economic stability for black women had an inverse relationship to the level of abuse experienced.

Statistics from the U.S. Office of Minority Health show that “African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S.,” at a rate of “four out of five African American women.” This phenomenon has created a crisis of preventable conditions such as diabetes and heart disease among those affected.

High levels of obesity among black women has been a hot topic of recent debate. The New York Times published a controversial essay in early May by novelist Alice Randall, in which she says black women are fat out of personal preference.

Discussions of black women’s obesity rippled on for many days inspired by Randall’s opinion, with one author countering that black women are not fat out of preference, but because of “poverty, as well as lack of education.”

This latest study provides an additional level of causes to consider. While the study authors explained that definitive causes of obesity in adulthood are difficult to determine, emotional eating as a result of early trauma might be a “common sense” method of coping with abuse.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.