June 03, 2013
1 min read

Childhood abuse tied to food addiction in adult women

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Women who experienced severe physical and sexual abuse during childhood were more than twice as likely to develop a food addiction, according to new study results.

“The epidemic prevalence of obesity and its toll on health call for focused efforts to understand widespread obesity risk factors that may be modified to improve public health,” the researchers wrote. “A better understanding of the mechanisms by which child abuse, experienced by over a third of girls, influences weight gain is likely to be important in addressing obesity risk in women.”

Susan Mason, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues studied the link between childhood abuse and addiction-like eating in 57,321 adult women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII), which gathered data on physical and sexual child abuse histories in 2001 and food addiction in 2009. The researchers used Poisson regression analyses to determine the risk ratios associated with childhood abuse.

More than 8% of the sample reported severe physical abuse in childhood, and approximately the same percentage met criteria for food addiction. Women with food addiction were 6 units of BMI heavier than women without food addiction. Severe physical and sexual abuse were associated with approximately 90% increases in risk for food addiction (RR=1.92; 95% CI, 1.76-2.09 and RR=1.87; 95% CI, 1.69-2.05, respectively).

The RR for combined severe physical and sexual abuses was 2.4 (95% CI, 2.16-2.67).

The researchers said the study’s findings are exploratory, and future research should focus “on the pathways from abuse to weight gain, to identify critical periods of vulnerability and targets for intervention that can inform prevention and treatment efforts.”

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.