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Adverse childhood experiences are associated with an  increased risk of obesity in early adolescence: a population-based prospective cohort study



To determine whether adverse childhood experiences were associated with weight gain and obesity risk in adolescence.


We analyzed data from 6942 adolescents followed between 9 and 13 years of age in the Growing Up in Ireland cohort study. The main exposures were 14 adverse childhood experiences, 4 of which were included in the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study. The primary outcome was incident overweight and obesity at 13 years. Secondary outcomes included prevalent overweight/obesity and weight gain.


More than 75% of the youth experienced an adverse experience and 17% experienced an ACE-specific experience before 9 years. At 13 years, 48% were female and 31.4% were overweight or obese. After adjusting for confounding, exposure to any adverse experience was associated with prevalent overweight/obesity (aOR: 1.56; 1.19–2.05) and incident overweight/obesity (adjusted IRR: 2.15; 95% CI: 1.37–3.39), while exposure to an ACE-specific exposure was associated weight gain (BMI Z score change = 0.202; 95% CI: 0.100–0.303). A significant interaction between income and adverse childhood experiences was observed for both incident overweight/obesity and weight gain (BMI Z change: −0.046; 95% CI: −0.092 to 0.000).


Adverse childhood experiences and low income interact and independently predict obesity risk in early adolescence.

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We are indebted to the families who participated in the Growing Up in Ireland Cohort study and the staff at the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin for data collection and management. Growing Up in Ireland was commissioned by the Irish Government and funded by the Department of Health and Children through the Office of the Minister for Children (OMC) in association with the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Central Statistics Office. These analyses were funded through a grant awarded to J.M. from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. J.M. holds a Applied Public Health Chair in Resilience and Obesity in Youth awarded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Public Health Agency of Canada. This work was also supported by Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CPP-137910), Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA), and Republic of Ireland.

Author information

J.M. devised the original proposal, secured funding for the analyses, and had overall responsibility for the study. R.G. helped develop the original proposal, was involved in the analysis of data, and drafted the manuscript. A.F. was responsible for data analysis, data interpretation, and drafted the manuscript. R.L. was involved in data collection, data management, data interpretation, and writing the manuscript. J.W. designed and had overall responsibility for the Growing Up in Ireland Cohort study, contributed to interpretation of findings. All authors contributed to data interpretation, reviewed and contributed to drafts of the manuscript, and approved the final report.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.


All stages of the Growing Up in Ireland project were approved by the Health Research Board’s standing Research Ethics Committee based in Dublin, Ireland and these analyses were approved by the Biomedical Research Ethics Board at the University of Manitoba.

Correspondence to Jonathan McGavock.

Supplementary information

Appendix Table1

GUI ACE Obesity STROBE_checklist_cohort

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