One hundred significantly overweight patients sequentially applying to a very low calorie diet (VLCD) program were interviewed to learn how the onset of obesity correlated with other life events. By comparison with a control group of 100 always-slender adults, the obese applicants were found to be different at a highly significant level in the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse, nonsexual childhood abuse, early parental loss, parental alcoholism, chronic depression, and marital family dysfunction in their own adult lives. The obese patients commonly reported using obesity as a sexually protective device; many reported overeating to cope with emotional distress. Inquiry into depression, past sexual abuse, and past or present dysfunctional family life should be added to the current medical evaluation of all obese patients. The resultant findings are likely to be relevant to their treatment, whether for obesity or for other medical conditions.