BACKGROUND: There is some evidence that early sexual abuse is an aetiological factor for eating disorder. However, there is sparse information from large-scale, non-clinical studies. AIMS: This study was designed to explore which early experiences, recalled during pregnancy, were associated with both lifetime and antenatal eating disorder symptoms in a community sample. METHOD: Univariate and multivariate analyses were conducted of data from questionnaires administered during pregnancy to a community sample of pregnant women. RESULTS: Recall of parental mental health problems and of early unwanted sexual experiences were independently associated with both lifetime eating problems, laxative use and vomiting during pregnancy, and marked concern during pregnancy over shape and weight. CONCLUSIONS: There are public health implications for these results. Eating disorders in mothers represent a risk for child development. It may be important to enquire during pregnancy about a history of eating problems and to provide the opportunity for early experiences to be discussed.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Psychiatry

Publication Date





268 - 273


Adolescent, Adult, Analysis of Variance, Bulimia Nervosa, Cathartics, Child Abuse, Sexual, Child of Impaired Parents, England, Family Health, Feeding and Eating Disorders, Female, Humans, Life Change Events, Middle Aged, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Complications, Risk Factors, Self Concept, Social Support