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.