CHILDHOOD TRAUMA MAKES YOU OBESE?
Kris J. Snyder, LMFT, MBA, CPT
Happy New Year’s! Because many of us choose to make changes at this time of the year, I thought this was an excellent time to repost an earlier blog on the effects of childhood trauma. This is the time of year where we will consistently be bombarded with an overabundance of information from “well-intentioned fitness and weight loss gurus” instructing us on how to lose weight and get back in shape in the new year. The approach and style from many of the personal trainers I encounter will make it difficult for their clients to make long-term lifestyle changes against the fight against obesity. As fitness professionals and coaches, we must stop oversimplifying the weight loss process and consider the idiosyncrasies that our clients consistently struggle with in their daily weight loss journey.
Please understand that 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. I will be address this issue in a later post.
Childhood trauma makes you obese?
Adverse childhood experiences have such a profound effect on a child’s brain that they show up decades later. This type of trauma is responsible for causing much chronic disease, most mental illness and is at the root of most violence. In this post I will address how childhood trauma can be a potential cause of obesity in some adults based on a study conducted by Kaiser Permanente back in the 1990s called the Adverse Childhood Experience study (ACEs). Dr. Anda, who remains involved in the study states, “in his opinion because of what the ACEs uncovers, is the most important public health problem he has seen” (acestoohigh.com).
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. These issues do not discriminate as conventional wisdom may lead many to think these issues are associated with those individuals on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. 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 growing obesity epidemic
Heerman et. al. report children who reside in stressful home environments and are exposed to ACEs are more likely to develop obesity beginning in childhood and into adulthood (2016). David Williamson, a CDC researcher who used the ACE study to connect child trauma and obesity states that he is okay with communicating 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 have suffered some form of abuse in their childhoods (acestoohigh.com).
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). I have included a link to obtain your ACE score near the bottom of the page.
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 (acestoohigh.com). 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, I am not saying that every obese person was sexually abused as a child. What I am trying to convey is that if you are obese and consistently find yourself struggling with your long-term transformation plan, my goal is to simply call your attention to some of the potential barriers. More importantly, what many fitness professionals do not understand is that obesity can also be signs of other issues. For example, the findings of this study are so powerful that its research demonstrates that those who score at least one ACE have an 87% chance of having two or more adverse childhood experiences (acestoohigh.com)!
The acestoohigh.com site has a plethora of information on the consequences of accumulating traumatic experiences. According to the site, nearly two-thirds or 64% of adults have at least one ACE. I personally have only met one person who have reported only one ACE.I have also met others who report up to nine, and their personal life reflect as much. I will simply say the information is too important to ignore.
You can think of an ACE score as a cholesterol score for childhood trauma. For example, people with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers and seven times more likely to be alcoholic. Having an ACE score of 4 increases the risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent, and suicide by 1200 percent. People with high ACE scores are more likely to be violent, to have more marriages, more broken bones, more drug prescriptions, more depression, and more autoimmune diseases. People with an ACE score of 6 or higher are at risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years (acestoohigh.com).
As I expressed in the introduction the battle with obesity is more complex than what is communicated in the fitness world and the omission of the potential barriers sets many individuals up for failure. You must take your time, complete your research, and consistently ask why to the experts who are helping you. Also, as the research demonstrates, you are not alone, so developing a “proper” support team is important.
More importantly, 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 and then you have a decision to make. I have enclosed a link to acestoohigh.com and some information on the body mass index (bmi).
There are also several presenters on this subject on YouTube and Ted talk addressing the Adverse Childhood Study(ACEs). It is important to be honest with yourself and take the proper steps to seek the appropriate mental health assistance from a qualified professional.
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It’s all about Microwins!
Kris J. Snyder, LMFT, MBA, CPT
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*More about the BMI & Obesity
Mayoclinic.org explains that obesity is diagnosed when your body mass index (BMI) is 30 or higher (mayoclinc.org). 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.com website and take the appropriate healthy action.
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:http://dx.doi.org.webproxy3.columbuslibrary.org/10.1002/oby.21413