Adversity and child body mass index in Fragile Families over 15 years: Do type and timing matter?

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Journal Article

Weight status has been linked to adverse childhood experiences. Existing research, however, is limited to unidimensional assessments of cumulative risk and does not account for the complex nature of adversity experienced by children in high-risk settings. We fill existing gaps by assessing how four subtypes of adversity across two primary dimensions of threat and deprivation-based adversity are associated with changes in body mass index (BMI) across child ages 3 through 15 years.

U.S. mothers and fathers (n = 2412) in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study were interviewed when children were born, and again at ages 1, 3, 5, 9, and 15 years. Independent variables include interpersonal (e.g., domestic violence), family (e.g., mental health), economic (e.g., housing insecurity), and community (e.g., witness/victim of violence) adversity from ages 1 through 9 years. Path analysis regressed changes in BMIz from ages 3 through 15 on past adversity exposures.

Increased interpersonal and community adversity subtypes from ages 3 to 5 were associated with decreased BMIz from ages 5–9 years. Increased economic adversity from age 3 to 5 was associated with increased BMIz from ages 5 to 9, adjusted for mother age, race, and education.

Findings highlight the differential influence of past adversity type and timing on child BMI. Interpersonal and community adversity were associated with decreased BMIz, and economic adversity with increased BMIz. Differences in directionality of associations suggest research should capture multiple dimensions of adversity in early childhood and possible positive and negative trends in effects on child weight as children grow from early to mid-childhood.

SSM - Population Health
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