Childhood abuse and risk of eating disorders in women

Epidemiology. 2004 May;15(3):271-8. doi: 10.1097/01.ede.0000120047.07140.9d.


Background: Eating disorders are one of the most common psychiatric disorders among women. Little is known about underlying causes.

Methods: To assess the association between childhood violence victimization and eating disorders, we performed a case-control study of women participating in the Harvard Study of Moods and Cycles, a population-based sample of women 36 to 44 years of age. Cases were women who met the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder after a structured clinical interview for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV). A self-administered questionnaire was used to assess a history of abuse as a child.

Results: Compared with women who reported no abuse, women who reported childhood physical abuse had twice the odds of suffering from subclinical eating disorder symptoms (odds ratio [OR] = 2.0; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.3-3.3) or meeting DSM-IV criteria for an eating disorder (2.1; 1.1-4.2). Women who reported both physical and sexual abuse during childhood had 3 times the odds of developing eating disorder symptoms (3.0; 1.3-6.8) and nearly 4 times the odds of meeting DSM-IV criteria for an eating disorder (3.9; 1.3-11.5). These associations persisted within the subgroup of women with no depression antecedent to first onset of an eating disorder.

Conclusions: The present study provides additional evidence of an association between preadolescent trauma and psychiatric morbidity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Anorexia Nervosa / epidemiology
  • Anorexia Nervosa / etiology
  • Bulimia / epidemiology
  • Bulimia / etiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / etiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • Reference Values
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sampling Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • United States / epidemiology