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Discovering Obesity’s Elusive Causes

Childhood Trauma & Commerce Cited

By John Salak –

Almost everyone recognizes that obesity is a dangerous and potentially deadly condition. It is also a chronic and growing threat in the U.S., affecting more than 40 percent of adults and almost 20 percent of children.

Extremely overweight people face a litany of potentially lethal issues that range from high blood pressure to Type 2 diabetes, stroke, gallbladder disease, high cholesterol, heart issues, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and mental illnesses, among others.

While obesity’s dangers may be well chronicled, its causes remain elusive. Traditionally, obese individuals were held responsible for their own condition because of their socioeconomic condition or simply a lack of perceived willpower.

Economic factors and education certainly play a role in promoting obesity, but new research indicates that childhood trauma, particularly abuse, can lead individuals to obesity later in life.

Japan’s Kobe University reported this connection recently after analyzing date from more than 5,000 men and women. The university discovered that while men were more likely to be grossly overweight compared with women, traumatic childhood experiences seemed to be a gateway for obesity in women.

The Japanese research identified traumatic childhood experiences as physical violence from a parent, insufficient food or clothing and emotional trauma brought about by a parent’s comments or insults.

“The main causes of obesity are conventionally considered to be overeating and insufficient exercise. Consequently, there is a tendency to perceive those who are overweight as lacking in self-discipline and being weak-willed,” the Kobe study reported. “However, this study has revealed that in women, the social background of the individual is also connected to the onset of obesity. This highlights the importance of taking social factors into account when implementing policies to tackle obesity.”

The researchers went on to suggest that improving child welfare, which obviously includes  working to prevent abuse, will also help to prevent obesity in adults.

Other factors can also predispose children to adult obesity, according to research from consumer analyst leader, Elsevier. The group reported that simple changes in a child’s “food environment,” such as the opening of a nearby convenience store, can foster obesity in children that will carry through to their adult lives.

“Childhood obesity has a complex multifaceted etiology. In this study we found that community food environment, particularly small neighborhood stores, can significantly influence children’s weight status.” explained the study’s lead author Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, a professor at Arizona State University.

Elsevier’s findings were based on how two groups of children, 3 to 15 years old, responded to changes in their food environments over eight years. The children came from four New Jersey cities—Camden, New Brunswick, Newark and Trenton—that had initiated childhood obesity prevention programs.

The research categorized food outlets as supermarkets, small grocery stores that offered healthy products, convenience stores, pharmacies, full-service restaurants or limited-service restaurants.

Supermarket proximity had limited impact on area obesity, but the research found that children increasingly exposed to traditional convenience stores within a mile of their homes were almost 12 percent more likely to be in the higher body mass index range after 24 months than those who didn’t have these stores close at hand.

Conversely, exposure to small grocery stores the offered a range of health products had a positive impact on children in the area, lowering their odds of being in the higher body mass index category by 37.3 percent after 24 months.

“Our research design allowed us to examine the patterns of relationship between changes in children’s weight status and changes in the food environment over several meaningful distances and lengths of exposure,” commented Michael Yedidia, the study’s co-director and a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “We found that community food environment in urban neighborhoods matters for children’s weight outcomes, especially as it relates to small stores located near children’s homes.”

While admittedly difficult to control what food stores open in neighborhoods, the Elsevier research team suggested that encouraging convenience stores to elevate their healthy food offerings has the potential to improve the weight status of children in their areas.





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