The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Developmental stress, reproductive development and adult body size: a life history perspective


1School of Medical Sciences, Edith Cowan University, 2School of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia

Friday 9:00-9:15, Galleria South Add to calendar

Across human populations, women who reach sexual maturity at a younger age are consistently shorter, heavier and thus have a higher body mass index (BMI) than later maturing women. Higher levels of childhood psychosocial stress have been shown to accelerate age at sexual maturity in humans. To our knowledge, however, it has not been established whether the early psychosocial environment also has consequences for a woman’s adult body size. We test the hypothesis that for women who experienced higher levels of childhood psychosocial stress, an earlier menarche will be associated with being shorter, heavier and having a higher BMI in adulthood than women who experienced no childhood stressors. The data for this study came from 580 pregnant women who completed self-report questionnaires. The childhood psychosocial environment was measured via 10 stressful life events experienced before 15 years of age. In the full sample earlier maturing women were significantly heavier (r = -.124), shorter (r = .137) and had a higher BMI (r = -.209). These associations were not consistent across sub-groups however. As predicted, early menarche was only associated with being heavier and having a higher BMI in women who experienced higher levels of childhood psychosocial stress. Conversely, in women who experienced no childhood stressors, there was no association between menarche and weight or BMI. Interestingly, the positive association between menarche and height was consistent across groups. These findings suggest a woman’s developmental environment moderates the negative association between her age at sexual maturity and her adult weight and BMI.

This research was supported by an Australia Postgraduate Award.

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