The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Child Abuse, Foster Care, and Child Obesity

Friday, January 18, 2013: 2:30 PM-4:15 PM
Nautilus 3 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
Cluster: Child Welfare
Symposium Organizer:
Jesse J. Helton, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
A growing body of evidence shows that abuse, neglect, and trauma in childhood is associated with an increased risk of adult obesity. Higher rates of different types of childhood maltreatment histories have been found in samples of obese adults compared to non-obese adults, such as childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, and psychological abuse.  However, little is known about child maltreatment and obesity risk during childhood and even less is known about the health-related environments of foster care homes.  This symposium presents three papers, the first one will provide an introduction to the prevalence of obesity in a national sample of abused and neglected children, the second paper presents weight changes over time for children in different foster care placements, and the third presents unique environmental and familial risk factors facing children in foster care.

The diversity of data sources is one of the many strengths of this symposium. The first study includes the presentation of nationally represented estimates of obesity for children not only in foster care, but also those who remain in-home following an investigation receiving child welfare services.  The second study uses child height and weight data collected directly from medical records and predicts unhealthy weight gain by both placement, child demographic, and investigation case characteristics of a sample of foster children in Los Angeles County who attended an initial medical appointment.  The final paper surveys traditional foster parents in their home and examines the home environmental and familial correlates of healthy and unhealthy food and beverage intake for both foster children and parents in Virginia.  All three studies included a wide age range of children.

These studies represent the cutting edge of research in this critical and overlooked area of study, and the implications are considerable.  Children who suffer not only the trauma and disruption of maltreatment but also the co-morbidities and social stigma associated with obesity are in double jeopardy for life-long poor health outcomes and social disadvantage.  The high prevalence of obesity among these children adds another layer of potentially life-long medical and social disadvantage to an already vulnerable population, yet weight status of children and adolescents in the child welfare system is not typically a priority area for treatment or policy.  As we look at the well-being of children who have been abused and neglected, we see that this line of inquiry is both novel and critical to improving not only the physical health of abused and neglected children across the child welfare continuum of care, but also the emotional and psychological.

* noted as presenting author
Obesity Prevalence Among U.S. Children and Adolescents Investigated for Maltreatment
Jesse J. Helton, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Janet Liechty, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Weight Changes in Overweight and Obesity Among Children in Foster Care for One Year
Janet U. Schneiderman, PhD, University of Southern California; Caitlin Smith, MA, University of Southern California; Lei Duan, PhD, University of Southern California
Weight Status, Health Behaviors and Home Environment of Foster Children and Their Caregivers
Serena Parks, BS, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; Fabio Almeida, PhD, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; Paul Estabrooks, PhD, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
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