Childhood Abuse Linked to Food Addiction in Women

By Valerie Tejeda 05/30/13

Women with a history of abuse are twice as likely to develop addictive eating patterns, a study finds.

More than a third of American women have
experienced abuse.
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Women with a history of severe childhood abuse are more likely to develop food addiction in adulthood, according to a new study published in the journal Obesity. National surveys indicate that more than a third of American women experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse before age 18, with consequences for both their mental and physical health. Past studies have documented a link between childhood abuse and later obesity, which has been attributed to overeating on high-sugar and high-fat foods as a response to stress. In order to further explore this link, Susan Mason, PhD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and her colleagues looked at 57,321 female study participants, and found that about 8% met the criteria for food addiction. They found that women who had experienced abuse before age 18 were twice as likely to struggle with food addiction in middle adulthood compared to those without a history of abuse. And the women who had experienced both physical and sexual abuse as children had an even higher likelihood of developing addictive eating patterns. 

Because of possible extenuating factors, the researchers note that more studies are needed in order to conclude there is causality between childhood abuse and addiction-like overeating. However, these findings could be used to help improve treatment for food addiction. “Women with histories of trauma who show a propensity toward uncontrolled eating could potentially be referred for prevention programs, while obese women might be screened for early trauma and addiction-like eating so that any psychological impediments to weight loss could be addressed," says Dr. Mason. "Of course, preventing childhood abuse in the first place would be the best strategy of all, but in the absence of a perfect child abuse prevention strategy, it is important that we try to head off its negative long-term health consequences.”

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Entertainment journalist and author Valerie Tejeda spends her days reporting on books, television, and all things pertaining to pop culture, and spends her nights writing novels for teens. Her stories have appeared on a variety of different publications, including but not limited to: VanityFair, MTV, The Huffington Post, TeenVogue, She Knows, Latina, The Fix,, Cosmopolitan, and more. You can find Valerie on Linkedin and Twitter.