Behavioral, cognitive, and socioemotional pathways from early childhood adversity to BMI: Evidence from two prospective, longitudinal studies

Publication Year


Journal Article

Childhood adversity is associated with higher adult weight, but few investigations prospectively test mechanisms accounting for this association. Using two socioeconomically high-risk prospective longitudinal investigations, the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation (MLSRA; N = 267; 45.3% female) and the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS; n = 2,587; 48.5% female), pathways between childhood adversity and later body mass index (BMI) were tested using impulsivity, emotion dysregulation, and overeating as mediators. Childhood adversity from 0 to 5 years included four types of adversities: greater unpredictability, threat/abuse, deprivation/neglect, and low socioeconomic status. Parents reported on child impulsivity, emotion dysregulation, and overeating. Height and weight were self-reported and measured at 32 and 37 years in MLSRA and at 15 years in FFCWS. FFCWS results indicated that threat, deprivation, and low socioeconomic status predicted greater impulsivity and emotion dysregulation at 5 years, which in turn predicted greater overeating at 9 years and higher BMI z-score at 15 years. Early unpredictability in FFCWS predicted higher BMI through greater impulsivity but not emotion dysregulation at age 5. MLSRA regression results replicated the threat/abuse → emotion dysregulation → overeating → higher BMI pathway. These findings suggest that different dimensions of early adversity may follow both similar and unique pathways to predict BMI.

Development and Psychopathology