Women who experienced childhood abuse, including severe physical or sexual, are at a higher risk of developing a food addiction in adulthood compared to women who did not experience any abuse, according to a new study released Wednesday.

Published in the journal Obesity, found that women who experienced childhood abuse before the age of 18 years were almost twice as likely to have a food addiction in middle adulthood compared with women without a history of childhood abuse.

The possibility of food addiction was increased even further for women who had experienced both physical and sexual abuse in childhood.

"The food addiction prevalence varied from six percent among women without a history of physical or sexual abuse to 16 percent among women with a history of both severe physical and sexual abuse. Also, women with a food addiction were generally heavier than women without a food addiction," the authors noted.

The study analyzed over 57,000 adults in the Nurses' Health Study II by Dr. Susan Mason and colleagues from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. Food addiction was defined as three or more addiction-like eating behaviors severe enough to cause significant distress or loss of function.

The study's authors acknowledged that the study's findings are tentative and further research is required before "any conclusions can be drawn about a causal link between childhood abuse victimization and addiction-like overeating." If the link is backed up by substantial evidence, the next step will be to find ways to reduce the risk of addiction-like overeating among women who experienced childhood abuse. 

"Women with histories of trauma who show a propensity toward uncontrolled eating could potentially be referred for prevention programs, while obese women might be screened for early trauma and addiction-like eating so that any psychological impediments to weight loss could be addressed," said Dr. Mason. "Of course, preventing childhood abuse in the first place would be the best strategy of all, but in the absence of a perfect child abuse prevention strategy, it is important that we try to head off its negative long-term health consequences," she added.

Although the incidence of child abuse and neglect has been decreasing in recent years, at least 676,569 children, or almost 1 in every 100 children in the United States, were abused in 2011, according to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. Seventy-five percent of the children were victims of neglect (531,413 children), meaning a parent or guardian failed to provide for the child's basic needs. Forms of neglect include medical neglect (15,074 children), educational neglect, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.