Psychological Medicine


Research Article

Setting the scene for eating disorders, II. Childhood helplessness and mastery


NICHOLAS A. TROOP a1 and JANET L. TREASURE a1
a1 Eating Disorders Research Unit, Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, London

Abstract

Background. Previous studies have examined childhood factors that appear to increase the risk of developing an eating disorder (e.g. sexual abuse and parental care). Studies have not yet examined whether the way in which women cope with these adversities in childhood influences the risk.

Method. Using a semi-structured interview, childhood helplessness and mastery were measured (based on behavioural indices) in women with and without a history of eating disorders.

Results. There was a higher rate of childhood helplessness and a lower rate of childhood mastery in women with eating disorders compared to those without. Furthermore, this difference did not appear to be a result of current psychiatric state.

Conclusion. It is concluded that it is not simply the presence of adversity in childhood which is of aetiological importance in the development of eating disorders but the way in which these are negotiated.


Correspondence:

Address for correspondence: Dr Nicholas A. Troop, Eating Disorders Research Unit, Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF.



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