Abuse victimization in childhood or adolescence and risk of food addiction in adult women

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Dec;21(12):E775-81. doi: 10.1002/oby.20500. Epub 2013 Jul 29.


Objective: Child abuse appears to increase obesity risk in adulthood, but the mechanisms are unclear. This study examined the association between child abuse victimization and food addiction, a measure of stress-related overeating, in 57,321 adult participants in the Nurses' Health Study II (NHSII).

Design and methods: The NHSII ascertained physical and sexual child abuse histories in 2001 and current food addiction in 2009. Food addiction was defined as ≥3 clinically significant symptoms on a modified version of the Yale Food Addiction Scale. Confounder-adjusted risk ratios (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated using modified Poisson regression.

Results: Over 8% of the sample reported severe physical abuse in childhood, while 5.3% reported severe sexual abuse. Eight percent met the criteria for food addiction. Women with food addiction were 6 U of BMI heavier than women without food addiction. Severe physical and severe sexual abuse were associated with roughly 90% increases in food addiction risk (physical abuse RR = 1.92; 95% CI: 1.76, 2.09; sexual abuse RR = 1.87; 95% CI: 1.69, 2.05). The RR for combined severe physical abuse and sexual abuse was 2.40 (95% CI: 2.16, 2.67).

Conclusions: A history of child abuse is strongly associated with food addiction in this population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Behavior, Addictive / etiology
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires