Faculty Advisor

Marylin Welsh

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Research demonstrates a complex relationship between childhood maltreatment (CM), mental health symptoms, and binge eating. Childhood emotional abuse correlates with mental health symptoms like major depression, dysthymia, panic disorder, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD (Taillieu, Brownridge, Sareen, & Afifi, 2016). However, the literature demonstrates mixed findings on the relationship between mental health symptoms and binge eating. The purpose of this study was to examine binge eating symptoms (not diagnosed eating disorders), in a nonclinical population of college students with and without CM history at UNC. Binge eating is defined as eating an abnormally high amount of food while feeling a loss of control (Bulik, Trace, & Mazzeo, 2013). Two-hundred and thirty-three college students self-reported binge eating symptoms, mental health and trauma symptoms, and CM history. These self-reports were collected in a larger longitudinal study examining childhood maltreatment and college adaptation. The Binge Eating Survey (BES), the Trauma Symptom Checklist-40 (TSC-40), and the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) were administered. Consistent with past research, CM history was positively correlated with a range of mental health difficulties. In contrast, only emotional abuse was significantly correlated with binge eating symptoms. All trauma symptoms (depressive, dissociative, anxious) were positively associated with binge eating symptoms; however, depression had the strongest positive correlation. It is important to note that when controlling for depressive symptoms, we found childhood emotional abuse no longer predicted binge eating. That is, depressive symptoms fully mediated the relationship between childhood emotional abuse and binge eating symptoms. These findings suggest that depressive symptoms are a key factor in the relationship between a history of childhood emotional abuse and increased binge eating symptoms. It is important to replicate this study to examine why only emotional abuse was correlated to higher binge eating symptoms, which is contrary to prior research in clinical samples.