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Epidemiology and Population Health

The weight of childhood adversity: evidence that childhood adversity moderates the impact of genetic risk on waist circumference in adulthood

Abstract

Objective

The present study tested the interactive effects of childhood adversity and polygenic risk scores for waist circumference (PRS-WC) on waist circumference (WC). Consistent with a diathesis-stress model, we hypothesize that the relationship between PRS-WC and WC will be magnified by increasing levels of childhood adversity.

Methods

Observational study of 7976 adults (6347 European Americans and 1629 African Americans) in the Health and Retirement Study with genotyped data. PRS-WC were calculated by the HRS administrative core using the weighted sum of risk alleles based on a genome-wide association study conducted by the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium. Childhood adversity was operationalized using a sum score of three traumatic events that occurred before the age of 18 years.

Results

There was a statistically significant interaction between PRS-WC and childhood adversity for European Americans, whereby the magnitude of PRS-WC predicting WC increased as the number of adverse events increased.

Conclusions

This study supports the idea of the interactive effects of genetic risks and childhood adversity on obesity. More epidemiological studies, particularly with understudied populations, are needed to better understand the roles that genetics and childhood adversity play on the development and progression of obesity.

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Fig. 1: Polygenic risk score by childhood adversity interaction effect predicting average waist circumference for White/European adults.

Data availability

Data and analysis scripts are available on the Open Science Framework (OSF; https://osf.io/rnjxz).

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Contributions

FDM and AGC developed the idea for the study and selected the variables for analyses. FDM conducted the analyses and drafted the methods and results. AGC drafted the introduction and discussion. RFK assisted with the interpretation of results and the drafting of the paper All authors provided critical revisions and approved a final version of the paper.

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Correspondence to Adolfo G. Cuevas.

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Cuevas, A.G., Mann, F.D. & Krueger, R.F. The weight of childhood adversity: evidence that childhood adversity moderates the impact of genetic risk on waist circumference in adulthood. Int J Obes 46, 1875–1882 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-022-01191-3

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