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Keywords:

  • sexual orientation;
  • body weight;
  • women;
  • sexual abuse

Abstract

Objective: Our goal was to examine the association between childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and obesity in a community-based sample of self-identified lesbians.

Research Methods and Procedures: A diverse sample of women who self-identified as lesbian was recruited from the greater Chicago metropolitan area. Women (n = 416) were interviewed about sexual abuse experiences that occurred before the age of 18. Self-reported height and weight were used to calculate BMI and categorize women as normal-weight (<25.0 kg/m2), overweight (25.0 to 29.9 kg/m2), obese (30.0 to 39.9 kg/m2), or severely obese (≥40 kg/m2). The relationship between CSA and BMI was examined using multinomial logistic regression analysis.

Results: Overall, 31% of women in the sample reported CSA, and 57% had BMI ≥25.0 kg/m2. Mean BMI was 27.8 (±7.2) kg/m2 and was significantly higher among women who reported CSA than among those who did not report CSA (29.4 vs. 27.1, p < 0.01). CSA was significantly related to weight status; 39% of women who reported CSA compared with 25% of women who did not report CSA were obese (p = 0.004). After adjusting for age, race/ethnicity, and education, women who reported CSA were more likely to be obese (odds ratio, 1.9; 95% confidence interval, 1.1–3.4) or severely obese (odds ratio, 2.3; 95% confidence interval, 1.1–5.2).

Discussion: Our findings, in conjunction with the available literature, suggest that CSA may be an important risk factor for obesity. Understanding CSA as a factor that may contribute to weight gain or act as a barrier to weight loss or maintenance in lesbians, a high-risk group for both CSA and obesity, is important for developing successful obesity interventions for this group of women.