The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and the development of eating problems in female children and early adolescents in the context of age and pubertal status and timing. Previous research indicated that women with eating problems and disorders frequently endorse a history of childhood sexual abuse. However, the studies were mainly retrospective and cross-sectional and with adult and late adolescent participants from middle to upper middle-class backgrounds. This dissertation was prospective and utilized both longitudinal and cross-sectional analysis strategies with matched group comparisons at ages 8, 12, and 14 between girls with lower family total estimated income who had a history of at least one allegation of childhood sexual abuse and those who did not. At age 8 the groups were matched on gender, age, ethnicity, and family’s estimated total income. At ages 12 and 14 groups were matched on age, gender, ethnicity, and pubertal status and timing. All participants were part of the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN).
Results from the current study mainly supported the overall hypothesis that eating problems are impacted by a history of childhood sexual abuse (p < .05). At all three time periods the group of sexually abused girls had significantly more eating problems than the matched group of girls with no sexual abuse history. Although in the predicted direction, significant differences were not found when eating problems were analyzed over time. Results partially supported the hypothesis that early period onset (prior to age 11) might increase risk for development of eating problems.
Keywords: sexual abuse, eating problems, eating disorders, body perception, period status and timing, menarche status and timing, Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect, LONGSCAN