Childhood abuse victimization, stress-related eating, and weight status in young women

Ann Epidemiol. 2015 Oct;25(10):760-6.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2015.06.081. Epub 2015 Jul 16.


Purpose: Abuse in childhood predicts stress-related overeating and excess weight gain in young women. We investigated whether two stress-related overeating behaviors--binge eating and coping-motivated eating--explain childhood abuse associations with weight status in young women.

Methods: Analyses included 4377 women participating in the Growing Up Today Study, a longitudinal cohort of youth enrolled at age 9 to 14 years. We used marginal structural models to estimate the effects of abuse before age 11 years on weight status at age 22 to 29 years with and without adjustment for binge eating and coping-motivated eating.

Results: Women with severe physical, sexual, and emotional abuse had early adult body mass indexes (BMIs) that were 0.74 kg/m(2) (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.15-1.33), 0.69 (95% CI: -0.46 to 1.83), and 0.85 (95% CI: 0.24-1.45) kg/m(2) higher, respectively, than those without abuse. Adjustment for coping-motivated eating attenuated the excess BMI associated with severe physical abuse, but no other important attenuations were found.

Conclusions: Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse before age 11 years were associated with higher early adult weight status, although the sexual abuse estimate was not statistically significant. Evidence for a role of stress-related eating in abuse--BMI associations was limited and inconsistent across abuse types.

Keywords: Body mass index; Child abuse; Eating disorders; Hyperphagia; Obesity; Overweight; Psychological stress; Violence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight*
  • Bulimia / epidemiology
  • Bulimia / psychology
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Overweight / epidemiology*
  • Overweight / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Weight Gain