Child sexual abuse and later disordered eating: A New Zealand epidemiological study

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Abstract

Objective

This community-based study examined how some women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse (CSA) develop an eating disorder (ED), whereas others develop depression and anxiety, and others show no adverse psychological sequelae.

Methods

A two-stage random community sampling strategy was used to select two groups of women: (1) women with CSA prior to age 16 years and (2) a comparison group of women reporting no abuse. Both groups completed the Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI), the Present State Examination, and additional ICD−10 eating disorders questions. Information on the nature and frequency of the CSA was obtained at interview. CSA women with ED (CSA+ED) were compared with CSA women without ED (CSA−noED) and with CSA women with anxiety and/or depression (psychiatric comparison group).

Results

Higher rates of EDs in women who have experienced CSA were confirmed in this study. Belonging to a younger age cohort, experiencing menarche at an early age, and high paternal overcontrol on the PBI independently increased the risk of developing an ED in women who had experienced CSA. Low maternal care was specifically associated with the development of anorexia nervosa, whereas early age of menarche differentiated women with bulimia nervosa. Younger age and early age of menarche also differentiated the CSA+ED women from the psychiatric comparison group.

Discussion

Early maturation and paternal overcontrol emerged as risk factors for ED development in women with CSA. Although these variables are also risk factors in the general population, women with CSA may be vulnerable to ED development because these risk factors are particular domains of concern that emanate from experiences of CSA. © 2001 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Int J Eat Disord 29: 380–392, 2001.

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