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Obes Rev. 2004 Aug;5(3):129-35.

Childhood sexual abuse and obesity.

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  • 1University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Weight and Eating Disorders Program, 3535 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


The causes of the current obesity epidemic are multifactorial and include genetic, environmental, and individual factors. One potential risk factor may be the experience of childhood sexual abuse. Childhood sexual abuse is remarkably common and is thought to affect up to one-third of women and one-eighth of men. A history of childhood sexual abuse is associated with numerous psychological sequelae including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, somatization, and eating disorders. Relatively few studies have examined the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and adult obesity. These studies suggest at least a modest relationship between the two. Potential explanations for the relationship have focused on the role of disordered eating, particularly binge eating, as well as the possible "adaptive function" of obesity in childhood sexual abuse survivors. Nevertheless, additional research on the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and obesity is clearly needed, not only to address the outstanding empirical issues but also to guide clinical care.

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