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Scientists: Sexual Abuse Cause Eating Disorders

Scientists Find Sexual Abuse Causes Eating Disorders

By Marietta Gross

London/Vienna -- Scientists from the University of Bristol have found that sexual abuse of children often leads to eating disorders in later life. The researchers examined 10,000 women in their study. The eating disorders occurred in women who had been sexually abused twice as often, report the scientists in the actual edition of the science magazine British Journal of Psychiatry

Women who were suffering from eating disorders had more often weight problems during pregnancy said scientist Rob Senior. Those who stated they had had a happy childhood (79 percent) were less likely to suffer from bulimia or anorexia.

In contrast, those who had suffered child abuse were found to be more likely to suffer from eating disorders: 15 per cent showed significant symptoms of an eating disorder and 30 per cent had problems with their weight during pregnancy. According to the scientists these women tend not to breastfeed their babies.

Previous studies concluded that eating disorders are associated with impacts of an unhappy childhood. This includes alcohol abuse by a parent, physical or emotional violence and other problems within the family: "Sexual abuse and eating disorders can cohere," said health professional and psychotherapist Barbara Reiterer in an interview with Austrian news agency "Older literature affirms a connection between these two, but more recent insights declined an association. Now the tendency goes towards connecting both aspects again“, explained the expert.

"The abuse causes an adverseness towards the own body. The connection between sexual abuse and eating disorders lies in a changed approach towards the body. These are desperate trials (attempts) to gain satisfaction and to wipe off the mental discomfort," said Reiterer. But such a satisfaction could not be reached, no matter how thin a girl is. Pregnancy would become a problem insofar as it alludes to sexual activity.

Barbara Reiterer said eating disorders develop from a lack of self-worth. Other causes include a need to impress others, to be noticed, identification problems, and social values: "It’s problematic if the self-worth is defined by the weight“, said Reiterer. She said in such cases the reason for the eating disorder would not be a lack of self-esteem, but would be found in society attitudes.


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