Shared associations between histories of victimisation among people with eating disorder symptoms and higher weight

Deborah Mitchison, Kay Bussey, Stephen Touyz, David Gonzalez-Chica, Michael Musker, Nigel Stocks, Julio Licinio, Phillipa Hay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


BACKGROUND:: The success of integrated prevention initiatives for eating disorders and obesity is hampered by a lack of shared risk factor research. Bullying and sexual abuse are potentially potent shared risk factors for the spectrum of eating and weight disorders.

METHODS:: A representative sample of N = 3005 South Australian males and females ≥15 years was interviewed about their height, weight, eating disorder symptoms, lifetime experiences of bullying and sexual abuse and mental and physical health-related quality of life.

RESULTS:: Participants who were currently obese (25.2%) or underweight (2.7%) or who reported current eating disorder symptoms (32.7%) were between 10% and 27% more likely to have experienced bullying, and obese and eating disordered participants were also 47% and 56% more likely to have experienced sexual abuse, respectively. In regard to specific symptoms, a lifetime history of bullying was associated with increased risk of obesity, extreme dieting, purging and overvaluation of body weight and/or shape, whereas a lifetime history of sexual abuse was associated with increased risk of obesity, binge eating and extreme dieting and decreased risk of underweight. Lifetime histories of bullying and sexual abuse were associated with health-related quality of life impairment; however, lifetime bullying was associated with a greater adverse impact among participants with current eating disorder symptoms.

CONCLUSION:: Self-reported bullying and sexual abuse victimisation have shared associations with eating and weight spectrum problems. Differences in the symptoms associated with bullying versus sexual abuse are discussed, as well as the clinical and public health implications.

JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
Early online date2 Dec 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Dec 2018


  • bullying
  • Eating disorder
  • epidemiology
  • obesity
  • quality of life
  • sexual abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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