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Int J Eat Disord. 2001 Apr;29(3):270-9.

Pathways mediating sexual abuse and eating disturbance in children.

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Department of Neuroscience, University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, 1919 North Elm Street, Fargo, ND 58102, USA.



To examine the relationship between childhood maltreatment and eating disorders in a sample of children.


Twenty 10-15-year-old female children who were receiving treatment following reported childhood sexual abuse and 20 age-matched controls were compared on a series of measures assessing eating disorder behaviors, body image concerns, substance use, mood, impulsive behavior, and self-concept.


Sexually abused children reported higher levels of eating disorder behaviors, impulsive behaviors, and drug abuse than controls. Furthermore, behavioral impulsivity provided the strongest mediational effect between a history of childhood sexual abuse and purging and restrictive dieting behavior. Drug use proved to be a significant secondary mediator of the childhood sexual abuse eating disorder behavior association.


These data support the hypothesis that childhood sexual abuse is related to disordered eating in children, and extend similar findings that have been previously reported with adults. Behavioral impulsivity and drug use appear to be significant mechanisms that influence eating disorder behavior following childhood sexual abuse.

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