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PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51868. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051868. Epub 2012 Dec 31.

The association between maltreatment in childhood and pre-pregnancy obesity in women attending an antenatal clinic in Australia.

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Metro North Mental Health, Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital Herston, Herston, Australia.



Obesity in pregnancy is associated with increased risk of complications and adverse outcomes in mother and child. Childhood adverse experiences are known to have numerous negative physical and emotional sequelae. We aimed to examine if exposure to abuse and/or neglect in childhood increased the likelihood of pre-pregnancy obesity.


Demographic and clinical data including weight, height, mental health as measured by the General Health Questionnaire and exposure to childhood trauma as measured by the childhood trauma questionnaire was collected from 239 women attending antenatal care at an Australian tertiary hospital.


More than one quarter of women were obese prior to pregnancy and approximately 20% of women self reported experiencing moderate to severe physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Almost 60% of women scored in the clinical range on the GHQ. Pre-pregnancy obesity in women attending antenatal care was associated with a self-reported history of emotional or physical abuse with those exposed to moderate or severe emotional or physical abuse having increased odds of being obese prior to pregnancy (O.R. and 95% CI: 2.40; 1.19-4.84 and 2.38; 1.18-4.79 respectively). There was no significant association between other forms of childhood maltreatment, demographic or current mental health status and pre-pregnancy obesity.


The high rates of obesity, mental health problems and self reported childhood maltreatment in the Australian antenatal population are serious public health concerns due to the extra health risks conferred on mother and offspring. Exposure to physical or emotional abuse during childhood increases the likelihood of obesity in women attending antenatal care. Further research is required to determine reasons for this association.

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