Military Sexual Trauma Is Associated With Eating Disorders, While Combat Exposure Is Not

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Abstract

Objective: There are strong associations among trauma and eating disorders. However, while trauma and eating disorders are more common among veterans than other populations, there is little information on how military-specific stressors affect eating disorder risk. This study’s objective was to determine whether military sexual trauma and combat exposure were independent predictors of eating disorders among women veterans, a high-risk group. Method: Participants were women age 18–70, using VA medical center services, without psychotic disorders or suicidal ideation (N = 407). We estimated a cross-sectional logistic regression model to predict eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder) as a function of military sexual trauma and combat exposure, adjusting for demographic variables. Results: Sixty-six percent of participants reported military sexual trauma, 32% reported combat exposure, and 15% met eating disorder criteria. Mean age was 49 years (SD = 13); 40% were veterans of color. Women reporting military sexual trauma had twice the odds of an eating disorder compared to women who did not (odds ratio [OR]: 2.03; 95% CI [1.03–3.98]). Combat exposure was not associated with eating disorders. Asian race (OR: 3.36; 95% CI [1.26–8.97]) and age (OR: 1.03; 95% CI [1.01–1.06]) were associated with eating disorders. Conclusions: The high rates of military sexual trauma and eating disorders highlight a need for continued work. Results suggest that it may be useful to focus on women reporting military sexual trauma when implementing eating disorder screening and treatment programs. Given associations among trauma, eating disorders, obesity, and mortality, such efforts could greatly improve veteran health.

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