Lead investigator Dr. Renee Boynton-Jarrett, a pediatric primary care physician at Boston Medical Center, and colleagues used data involving 33,000 women in 2005 from the Black Women's Health Study, which has tracked a large number of African-American women since 1995.
The women's early life experiences of abuse were assessed in relation to two measures of obesity -- body mass index and waist circumference greater than 35 inches as a measure of central obesity.
"Abuse during childhood may adversely shape health behaviors and coping strategies, which could lead to greater weight gain in later life," Boynton-Jarrett said in a statement.
She noted that metabolic and hormonal disruptions resulting from abuse could have that effect and childhood abuse could be a marker for other adversities.
"Ultimately, greater understanding of pathways between early life abuse and adult weight status may inform obesity prevention and treatment approaches," Boynton-Jarrett said.
She said further studies are needed to clarify which factors are responsible for the association of abuse with obesity.
The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.
Notable deaths of 2014 [PHOTOS]