FRIDAY, May 31 (HealthDay News) -- Women who suffered severe physical or sexual abuse as children are much more likely than others to develop a food addiction, researchers say.
Because women with food addiction are more likely to be overweight, the study authors suggested their findings could shed light on potential causes of food addiction and obesity, and lead to improved treatment strategies.
More than one-third of American women experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse as children or teens, according to the study. Some studies have suggested that the resulting stress drives these females to eat sugary, high-calorie "comfort" foods.
"Women with histories of trauma who show a propensity toward uncontrolled eating could potentially be referred for prevention programs, while obese women might be screened for early trauma and addiction-like eating so that any psychological impediments to weight loss could be addressed," said the study leader, Susan Mason, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
"Of course, preventing childhood abuse in the first place would be the best strategy of all," Mason said, "but in the absence of a perfect child abuse prevention strategy, it is important that we try to head off its negative long-term health consequences."
For the study, published in a recent online edition of the journal Obesity, the researchers examined information compiled in 2001 on more than 57,000 women involved in the Nurses' Health Study II. Specifically, they analyzed histories on any physical or sexual abuse the women faced in childhood. The investigators also examined data collected in 2009 on any significant addiction-like eating behaviors the women developed later in life.
The study revealed that 8 percent of the participants had a food addiction. In addition, the researchers found that the women who were abused physically or sexually before age 18 were
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