Eating Disorder Symptoms in Female Veterans: The Role of Childhood, Adult, and Military Trauma Exposure

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Objective: Eating disorders are understudied among female U.S. military veterans, who may be at increased risk due to their high rates of trauma exposure and trauma-related sequelae. The current study sought to examine whether different types of trauma in childhood and adulthood confer differential risk for eating disorder symptoms (EDSs) in this population. Method: We analyzed survey data from a sample of female Veterans Health Administration patients (N = 186) to examine the association between 5 trauma types (i.e., childhood physical abuse, adult physical assault, childhood sexual abuse, adult sexual assault, and military-related trauma) and EDS severity. Results: Approximately 14% of the sample reported clinical levels (i.e., standardized Eating Disorder Diagnostic Scale score ≥16.5) of EDSs. Multiple traumatization was associated with increased EDSs. Adult physical assault, adult sexual assault, and military-related trauma were individually associated with more severe eating disorder symptomatology, though only military-related trauma was uniquely associated with disordered eating in the full model. Discussion: EDSs are common among female veterans, and trauma exposures are differentially associated with symptom severity. It is critical to assess for EDSs in female veterans, particularly those with a history of military-related trauma, to facilitate detection and appropriate treatment.

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