Background: Although childhood abuse has been associated with a number of adverse outcomes, research is now emerging which suggests it may play a role in subsequent development of obesity. Consequently, identifying potential mechanisms by which childhood abuse increases risk for obesity is essential. One possible explanation is that problematic eating and food-related behaviours (i.e., stealing/hoarding food, emotional eating, binge eating,) might mediate the association between adverse childhood experiences and obesity. Given young people placed in out-of-home care (OOHC) are: (1) typically removed from their families due to instances of abuse and/or neglect, and (2) experience poorer educational and health outcomes (including high rates of overweight/obesity) than their same-aged peers in the general community, they represent a high risk population group. Hence, the aim of this paper was to review eating and food-related difficulties for young people in care and their possible association with overweight/obesity.
Method: A search was conducted in January 2014 via: Academic Search Complete, CINAHL-with Full Text, Global Health, Medline, Social Work Abstracts, and PsycINFO. This paper was written as a narrative review.
Results: Seven studies were deemed relevant for the current review. Whilst this area of research is still in its infancy, the findings of this review suggest that young people residing in OOHC are at increased risk of problematic eating behaviours. Only two studies have examined whether patterns of problematic eating contribute to weight gain in this population. Although neither study found a positive association, each had limitations which may have impacted their findings.
Conclusions: It is clear that future research should focus on identifying whether patterns of problematic eating can explain the relationship between childhood abuse and subsequent weight gain. The findings of research evaluating these factors can then be used to better inform intervention strategies designed to address problematic eating and prevent excessive weight gain amongst young people living in OOHC.