Obesity rates are higher among sexually abused and lesbian women

Research Activities, March 2011, No. 367

By 2008 approximately 1 in 3 adults in the United States were obese with estimates of obesity accounting for 9 percent of all medical expenses. In a research paper exploring adult obesity, increased odds of obesity were found among lesbians (58 percent greater) and women reporting childhood sexual abuse by a family member (42 percent greater). In addition, women with a history of a mental health diagnosis (depression or anxiety) had a 41 percent greater odds of obesity than those without such a diagnosis. Reduced odds for obesity were found in those having a household income above $75,000 per year (47 percent lower) or a bachelor's degree (56 percent lower).

After adjusting for other factors, the influence of other categories of sexual abuse on the risk of obesity was not significant. One suggestion for future weight loss intervention studies would be the inclusion of a psychosocial component for those reporting childhood sexual abuse by a family member.

The study findings were based on analysis of information collected between 2003-2006 from 392 heterosexual and 475 lesbian women, aged 35 to 64, enrolled in the ESTHER (Epidemiologic Study of Health Risk in Women) Project at the University of Pittsburgh. Helen Smith, Ph.D., and colleagues used a standard definition of obesity as body mass index of 30 kg/m or higher. This research was supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Dr. Smith was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS17587).

More details are in "Sexual abuse, sexual orientation, and obesity in women" by Dr. Smith, Ph.D., Nina Markovic, Ph.D., Michelle E. Danielson, Ph.D., and others in the August 2010 Journal of Women's Health 19(8), pp. 1525-1532.

Current as of March 2011
Internet Citation: Obesity rates are higher among sexually abused and lesbian women: Research Activities, March 2011, No. 367. March 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/mar11/0311RA13.html