(HealthDay News) – Preschool-aged girls who experience higher cumulative social adversity at age 1 or age 3 are about twice as likely to exhibit early-onset obesity by age 5 as those without significant risk factors at either time point.

To determine whether cumulative social adversity has any effect on childhood obesity, Shakira F. Suglia, ScD, of Columbia University in New York City, and colleagues conducted a study involving 1,605 preschool-aged children participating in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Potential social adversity factors included domestic violence, food or housing insecurity, depression or substance abuse by the mother, or incarceration of the father. Social risk factors were assessed at ages 1 and 3 years; child height and weight were measured at age 5 years.

The researchers found that, overall, 17% of participating children were obese at age 5 years, and 57% had one or more social risk factors. Girls with two or more social adversity risk factors at either 1 or 3 years of age were about twice as likely to be obese compared with those with no risk factors at either age. Girls with two or more risk factors for social adversity at both age 1 and age 3 were not statistically significantly more likely to be obese at age 5 (odds ratio, 1.9; 95% confidence interval, 0.9–4.0). No association between cumulative social adversity factors and obesity was noted for boys.

“There seems to be gender differences in the effects of cumulative social risk factors on the prevalence of obesity at 5 years of age,” the authors write. “Understanding the social context of families could make for more effective preventive efforts to combat childhood obesity.”

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