The National Women's Study: relationship of victimization and posttraumatic stress disorder to bulimia nervosa

Int J Eat Disord. 1997 Apr;21(3):213-28. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1098-108x(199704)21:3<213::aid-eat2>;2-n.


Objective: In recent years there has been increased interest regarding the role of crime victimization in the development and/or maintenance of eating disorders, particularly bulimia nervosa.

Method: To examine the relationship among assault, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, a national, representative sample of 3,006 women completed structured telephone interviews.

Results: Lifetime prevalence of completed, forcible rape for respondents with bulimia nervosa was 26.6%, as compared with 11.5% for respondents with binge eating disorder and 13.3% for respondents without bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. Compared to respondents without bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder, aggravated assault history was significantly more prevalent in women with bulimia nervosa (26.8%), as was a lifetime history of posttraumatic stress disorder (36.9%). Characteristics of sexual assault experiences were not associated with dysfunctional eating patterns. Specific types of disordered eating such as compensatory behaviors in bulimia nervosa were associated with higher rates of victimization.

Conclusions: In sum, the significantly higher rates of both sexual and aggravated assault among women with bulimia nervosa compared with women without such a diagnosis support the hypothesis that victimization may contribute to the development and/or maintenance of bulimia nervosa.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bulimia / epidemiology
  • Bulimia / etiology*
  • Crime Victims* / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Offenses
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / etiology
  • United States / epidemiology