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Childhood Sexual Abuse and Eating Disorders

argumentative Essay
1569 words
1569 words
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Childhood Sexual Abuse and Eating Disorders

Recently, a great amount of psychological literature has focused on finding biological and genetic causes of mental illnesses and disorders, including eating disorders. However, according to recent twin studies, the heritability component of eating disorders may only account for 0% to 70% of the variance (Fairburn, Cowen, & Harrison, 1999). The leaves an ample amount of room for speculation of possible environmental risk factors for eating disorders. In this paper, I wish to examine one possible environmental risk that has received attention since the mid-80’s. Since that time, researchers have searched to determine the relationship between childhood sexual abuse, or trauma in general, and the development of eating disorders.

It seems somewhat logical to assume that a person who has experienced sexual trauma might develop feelings of dissatisfaction as well as disgust with their own body—the medium of abuse. Also, one might even attribute the anti-pubertal effects achieved through self-starvation as a suppression of sexuality that may be desired by a survivor of sexual abuse. These hypotheses, as well as connections observed between sexual abuse and PTSD and also between anxiety disorders (of which PTSD is one) and eating disorders led many researchers to study this relationship. However, the large body of the studies contradict each other’s findings. Many studies have found no evidence of a relationship between sexual abuse and eating disorders and others have found evidence. In this paper, I would like to examine the results of studies that have been aimed at answering the question, “Is childhood sexual abuse a risk factor for eating disorders?”

Literature Re...

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... of Childhood Sexual or Physical Abuse in Japanese Patients with Eating Disorders: Relationship with Dissociation and Impulsive Behaviors. Psychological Medicine, 29(4), 935-942.

Pope HG, & Hudson JI (1992). Is childhood sexual abuse a risk factor for bulimia nervosa? American Journal of Psychiatry, 149, 455-463.

Pope HG, Mangweith B, Negrao AB, Hudson JI, & Cordas TA (1994). Childhood sexual abuse and bulimia nervosa: A comparison of American, Austrian, and Brazilian women. American Journal of Psychiatry, 151, 732-737.

Rorty M, Yager J, & Rossotto E (1994). Childhood sexual, physical, and psychological abuse in bulimia nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 151, 1122-1126.

Wonderlich SA, Donaldson MA, Carson DK, Staton D, Gertz L, Leach L, & Johnson M (1996). Eating Disturbance and Incest. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 11, 195-207.

In this essay, the author

  • Argues that the heritability component of eating disorders may only account for 0% to 70% of the variance, leaving ample room for speculation of possible environmental risk factors.
  • Explains that it seems logical to assume that a person who has experienced sexual trauma might develop feelings of dissatisfaction as well as disgust with their own body—the medium of abuse.
  • Explains that many researchers have been unable to conclude that childhood sexual abuse is a risk factor, or distinctively related to eating disorders.
  • Explains the methodological limitations of these studies such as dependence on retrospection and self-report measures, no comparison group, limited sample size, nonrandom sampling, and failure to assess physical assaults in the absence of sexual assault experiences.
  • Explains that some studies' results contain evidence supporting the existence of a relationship.
  • Argues that studies give strength to only one side of an argument, so it is important to examine the between-studies discrepancies as well as within-study limitations.
  • Explains that the experience of childhood sexual trauma is more related to bulimia nervosa than anorexia or eating disorders not otherwise specified.
  • Opines that even if all studies found agreement and proof that childhood sexual abuse and eating disorders co-occur at a statistically significant rate, can the risk factor relationship be assumed?
  • Concludes that a positive correlation between sexual abuse and eating disorders has been established in enough studies to warrant further investigation.
  • Cites dansky bs, brewerton td, kilpatrick dg, & o’neil pm for their review of the evidence for a causal link between sexual abuse and eating disorders.
  • Explains fairburn cg, cowen pj, & harrison p. twin studies and the etiology of eating disorder
  • Explains kinzl jf, traweger c, guenther v, & biebl w. family background and sexual abuse associated with eating disorders.
  • Compares american, austrian, and brazilian women's experiences of childhood sexual abuse and bulimia nervosa.
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