Research finds childhood trauma and genetics linked to increased risk of obesity
New research from the Healthy Nevada Project has found an association between genetics, obesity and childhood trauma, linking the social determinants of health, genetics and disease. The study, which was published this week in “Frontiers in Genetics,” found that participants with specific genetic traits who experience childhood trauma are more likely to suffer from obesity in adulthood.
In 2016, DRI and Renown Health launched the Healthy Nevada Project, the nation’s first community-based population health study, which now has over 60,000 participants. The project is a collaboration with the personal genomics company, Helix, and combines genetic, environmental, social and clinical data to address individual and community health needs with the goal of improving health in the state and nation. The new study focuses on negative childhood experiences (ACE), which are traumatic and dangerous events that children endure before the age of 18. More than 16,000 Healthy Nevada Project participants completed a mental health survey, and more than 65% of those individuals self-reported at least one ACE event. These 16,000 participants were cross-referenced with their genetic makeup and clinical measurements of body mass index (BMI).
According to the research team’s findings, study participants who had undergone one or more types of ACE were 1.5 times more likely to become obese adults. Participants who underwent four or more ACEs were more than twice as likely to become severely obese. “Understanding that negative childhood experiences, such as abuse, poverty, food insecurity and poor relationships with primary caregivers increase a person’s risk of obesity but also interact with your genetics, are key to understand how we could provide earlier interventions, help reduce health disparities, and create a healthier Nevada for all,” said Tony Slonim, MD, DrPH, President and CEO of Renown Health.
Slonim, CEO of Renown Health, based in Reno, NV, is the first quadruple-board certified physician in the United States with certifications in Adult Critical Care, Internal Medicine, Pediatric Critical Care, and Pediatrics and holds a Ph.D. public. “Our analysis showed a consistent increase in BMI for each ACE a person underwent, indicating a very strong and significant association between the number of negative childhood experiences and obesity in adulthood. “said lead author Karen Schlauch, Ph.D., of DRI. “Most importantly, participants’ BMI responded even more strongly to the occurrence of ACE when associated with certain mutations in several genes, one of which is strongly associated with schizophrenia.”
“We know that genetics affects disease in the Healthy Nevada Project, and now we recognize that ACEs also affect disease,” said Healthy Nevada Project lead researcher Joseph Grzymski, PhD, of DRI and Renown Health. “Our new study shows that the combination of genes and environmental factors like ACEs, as well as many social determinants of health, can lead to worse health outcomes than either variable alone. More generally, This new work highlights how important it is for population-based genetic studies to examine the impact of social determinants on health outcomes.The study team believes it is important for clinical caregivers to understand the strong impact that negative childhood experiences such as ACEs can have on the health of children and adults.Researchers hope that the information from this study will encourage doctors and nurses to perform simple ACE screenings and take consider a patient’s social environment and history in combination with genetics when developing treatment plans for better patient health.
According to the 2019 Youth Behavioral Risk Survey (YRBS), 25.6% of teenagers in Washoe County are overweight or obese. Obesity is a serious health problem for children and adolescents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults. “Obese and overweight children and adolescents are at risk for multiple health problems during their youth, which are likely to be more severe in adulthood,” said Max J. Coppes, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAP, Nell J Redfield Chair of Pediatrics at the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine, Chief Medical Officer of Renown Children’s Hospital. “Obese and overweight young people are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Losing weight, in addition to a healthy diet, helps prevent and control many chronic diseases and improves quality of life for a lifetime.”
“We would like to thank all of the Healthy Nevada Project participants who provided information to make our work possible,” said Robert Read, MS, of DRI. “Our research shows that it’s not just genetics that cause disease, but that our environment and life experiences interact with our genes to impact our health in ways we are only beginning to understand.” (ANI)
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