We aimed to synthesize the evidence for an association between childhood maltreatment and body image disturbances in adulthood. Information on maltreatment subtypes and mediator variables was included to gain further insights into the mechanisms of the association. In addition, we aimed to examine the role of body image disturbances in the development of negative mental health outcomes associated with childhood maltreatment.
Based on a comprehensive search strategy, eligible studies were identified in PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science. The eligibility assessment was performed by two reviewers, and 132 articles were studied full-text. To reduce heterogeneity, only non-clinical samples were included in the meta-analysis. A meta-regression was computed to examine the influence of maltreatment subtype on body image disturbances.
Our results provide evidence for a robust association between childhood maltreatment and cognitive-affective body image, both in clinical and community samples. Included studies (N = 40) indicate that body image disturbances are especially pronounced in individuals suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after childhood maltreatment. The meta-analysis included 12 studies with a total of 15.481 participants, and indicates a small overall effect size (r = 0.21, 95% CI = [0.16, 0.26], p < .001). Meta-regression revealed no significant impact of maltreatment subtype in non-clinical samples.
Childhood maltreatment should be considered as a distal risk factor for the development of a negative cognitive-affective body image. We argue for future longitudinal studies which allow a better understanding of the pathways linking childhood maltreatment, body image disturbances and associated psychopathology.