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Local research shows trauma during childhood can lead to obesity as an adult

A person holds a semi-transparent sheet with gene sequences printed on it. The person is pointing at the sheet. A second person is looking at it.
Courtesy of the Desert Research Institute
Scientists with the Healthy Nevada Project study the genetics of Nevadans.

Children who experience stressful and traumatic events have an increased risk of obesity, according to a new study by Nevada researchers.

The research was conducted by the Healthy Nevada Project, a collaboration between the Desert Research Institute (DRI) and Renown Health.

The study examined the genetic makeup, mental health and body mass index (BMI) of 16,000 participants. Researchers found that people who experienced one or more adverse childhood experiences, including poverty, food insecurity or abuse, were 150% more likely to become obese as adults.

Karen Schlauch is a research professor at DRI who led the study. She said she learned that obesity isn’t only caused by genetics.

“What has been most surprising to me is that the mutations you carry may alone not influence disease at all. The direct influence between having a not-so-nice childhood and having a higher BMI could easily be explained by coping mechanisms; it could easily be explained by bad habits,” Schlauch said.

Schlauch was also surprised that more than 65% of participants said they’ve had a traumatic experience as a child. She hopes the research makes health care providers screen people who may be at risk.

As a note of disclosure, Renown Health is a financial supporter of KUNR.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning political journalist and the host of KUNR’s monthly show Purple Politics Nevada. She is passionate about reporting during election season, attending community events, and talking to people about the issues that matter most to them.
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