Childhood Trauma Makes You Obese?

Kris J. Snyder, MBA, MFT, CPT

Childhood trauma makes you obese?

Adverse childhood experiences has such a profound effect on a child’s brain that they show up decades later. This type of trauma are responsible for causing much chronic disease, most mental illness and are at the root of most violence. For the purpose of this discussion, I will address how childhood trauma is a potential cause of obesity in some adults and the focus is the result of a study conducted back in the 1990s called the Adverse Childhood Experience study (ACEs) by Kaiser Permanente. The results of the ACEs are so important, some saying the ACEs could be the largest, most important public health study that many have never heard of.

Dr. Robert Anda, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC states the ACEs changed his thinking dramatically.  Anda who is still involved with the study, states that it is his opinion, because of what the ACEs uncovers, is the most important public health problem he has seen (acestoohigh). The results of the ACEs not only uncovered a link between trauma as a child and obesity as adults, it also demonstrated a link between trauma and future social and emotional issues. Conventional wisdom may lead some to think these public health problems are issues for those on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. However, the 17,000 participants of this study were typically middle class (80% white, 10% Asian, and 10% Latino), and the average age was 57.  A large percentage of the participants were also college educated, where 74 percent attended college, and 46 percent graduated from college.

Childhood exposure to trauma & the obesity epidemic

Heerman et. al. report children who reside in stressful home environments and are exposed to ACEs are more likely to develop into obesity beginning in childhood and into adulhoodt (2016). David Williamson, a CDC researcher who used the ACE study to connect child trauma and obesity states that he is okay with communicating that there is a link between child abuse (physical, sexual, and verbal) and obesity in at least 8% of the population. Based on Williamson’s figures, if there are 70 million obese and morbidly obese Americans, then potentially 5 million of them are likely to suffered some form of abuse in their childhoods (


The ACEs measures 10 forms of childhood trauma (Five are personal & Five relate to other family members):

Physical, sexual & verbal abuse, physical & emotional neglect, a family member who (depressed or diagnosed with other mental illness, addicted to alcohol or another substance or in prison), witnessing a mother being abused, losing a parent (separation, divorce, or other reason).

See the link for the test below.

Got Your ACE Score?

Although there are many other forms of childhood trauma, research demonstrates the results from the ACEs provides a useful marker for future issues. This is important because trauma can be passed from generation to generation. This issue will be addressed in a later post.

Time does not heal all wounds

Dr. Feliti, co-founder of the ACEs says you do not just get over some problems, even 50 years later (  For the individual struggling with obesity, research demonstrates the first step is to question if unresolved childhood trauma is an issue. I want to make it clear that I am not saying that every obese person was sexually abused as a child. However, if you are obese and consistently struggling with your fat loss/transformation plan, my goal is to simply call your attention to potential to potential problems. More importantly, obesity can be signs of other issues. For example, those that score at least one ACE, research demonstrates there is an 87% chance that you have two or more ( Once you become familiar with the test, you will understand the scoring and how these dynamics can be connected to other negative markers for future issues.

Another point I would like to make is that the battle with obesity is not always simple as a restriction of calories and a lack of exercise issue. This is where issues arise with well-intentioned but uninformed trainers who press their clients who may be successful in the short term, however fall short over time. Those on your support team must understand how  trauma and how research shows that trauma can impact your ability to change some behaviors. And when you don’t properly address those health issues they become chronic. Chronic issues bring with it a number of other consequences.

And finally, it is important to understand that the collateral damage of childhood trauma is an issue of what happened to you, not what is wrong with you. Yes the evidence is clear, traumatic experiences as a child can create havoc as an adult and unresolved trauma can be passed from generation to generation. The first step is obtaining you score. I have enclosed a link to and for the bmi calculator. There are also several presenters on this subject on YouTube and Ted talk as well. It is important to be honest with you and take the proper steps to seek the appropriate mental health professional for assistance.

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*More about the BMI & Obesity explains that obesity is diagnosed when your body mass index (BMI) is 30 or higher ( The BMI is controversial as the calculation does not directly measure body fat. For example, an individual with above average muscle can easily end up in the obese range (muscle weighs more than fat). Although controversial, many practitioners still use the BMI as their gold standard of measurement for body fat.


Get your ACE score, Review the acestoohigh website and take the appropriate healthy action.

Got Your ACE Score?

Calculate your BMI


Heerman, W. J., Krishnaswami, S., Barkin, S. L., & McPheeters, M. (2016). Adverse family experiences during childhood and adolescent obesity. Obesity, 24(3), 696-702. doi:

White, C. (2017, March 16) How facing ACEs makes us happier, healthier, and more hopeful Retrieved from

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