Obesity among sexually abused women: an adaptive function for some?

Women Health. 1999;29(1):89-100. doi: 10.1300/J013v29n01_07.


In an attempt to explore the possibly adaptive function obesity may serve for some women with histories of sexual trauma, we examined relationships among sexual abuse history, body dissatisfaction, and maximum weight fluctuation among obese (n = 38; Body Mass Index > or = 27.3) and nonobese (n = 112; Body Mass Index < 27.3) women sampled from a primary care medical setting. History of sexual abuse was unrelated to current body weight within the entire sample, as well as the nonobese and the obese subsamples. However, the interaction between obesity and sexual abuse was statistically significant in the prediction of both current/ideal body-weight discrepancy (i.e., body dissatisfaction) and maximum weight fluctuation during adulthood. Among nonobese women, history of sexual abuse was unrelated to current body dissatisfaction but was related to greater maximal weight fluctuation during adulthood. Among obese women, those with a history of sexual abuse reported relatively less current body dissatisfaction and less weight fluctuation during adulthood compared to nonsexually-abused obese women. Results are discussed with regard to the potential adaptive function obesity may play for some sexually abused women and the need for additional research using larger, more diverse samples and more elaborate measures.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Body Image*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Sex Offenses / psychology*
  • United States