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Obesity, Traumatic Brain Injury, Childhood Abuse, and Suicide Attempts in Females at Risk


  • Kathleen Brewer-Smyth PhD, RN, CRRN

    Corresponding author
    1. College of Health Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, USA
    • Correspondence

      Kathleen Brewer-Smyth, College of Health Sciences, University of Delaware, McDowell Hall, Newark, DE 19716-3710.


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This study tested the hypothesis that obesity is related to history of traumatic brain injury (TBI), severity and frequency of childhood physical (CPA) and sexual abuse (CSA), and suicide attempts, adjusting for related variables in a high risk female population.


This cross-sectional study of 81 females compared obese to non-obese.


All variables were verified by private interviews, physical examination, and documented evidence, then statistically analyzed with logistic regression.


Obesity at the time of interview was related to history of a decreased number of TBIs per person, greater CSA, suicide attempts, and decreased CPA, adjusting for current smoking, depression, currently using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and age.


Number of TBIs per person and CPA were inversely related to obesity, adjusting for related variables. Greater CSA frequency and severity, and having attempted suicide were significantly related to greater risk of obesity, adjusting for related variables. Though causes of obesity cannot be determined by this design, and findings should be viewed with caution, this study provides new insight into the obesity epidemic that requires further investigation.

Clinical Relevance

Rehabilitation nurses are in ideal settings when patient's conditions are less acute, providing opportunities to address complex serious underlying etiologies of obesity. Obesity has not been alleviated by teaching about diet and exercise because obesity may be the result of dietary self-medication of pain from previous experiences. CSA is a very serious problem that could precipitate suicide attempts, obesity, and multifaceted poor health outcomes throughout the life span; subsequently placing individuals at greater risk of requiring rehabilitation services.