Childhood abuse linked to food addiction

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The far-reaching effects of childhood abuse may extend into eating habits, a new study reports.

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that women who had been physically or sexually abused as children were more than twice as likely to develop food addiction.

Abuse linked to 90 percent increase in risk

More than 57,000 adult women participated in the Nurses' Health Study II (NHSII), which included data about childhood physical and sexual abuse in 2001 and food addiction in 2009. Using Poisson regression analyses, the researchers were able to determine risk for addiction associated with childhood abuse.

Severe sexual and physical abuse was linked to a 90 percent increase in food addiction risk, while the same ratio of participants who reported childhood physical abuse – 8 percent – also met the criteria for food addiction.

Important to identify obesity risk factors

The study also found that women with food addiction had body mass indexes (BMIs) that were six units higher than women without food addiction.

"The epidemic prevalence of obesity and its toll on health call for focused efforts to understand widespread obesity risk factors that may be modified to improve public health," the researchers wrote.

They noted that a better understanding of how sexual and physical abuse influence weight gain would be helpful for preventing obesity risk in women. Identifying "critical periods of vulnerability" could aid in prevention and treatment as well, they concluded.

Results of the study are published in the journal Obesity.

Source: Wiley Online Library

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