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This was when Felitti thought to ask a question he hadn’t asked before. When did you start to put on weight? She thought about the question. When she was 11 years old, she said. So he asked: Was there anything else that happened in your life when you were 11? Well, she replied ― that was when my grandfather began to rape me.
As Felitti spoke to the 183 people in the program, he found 55 percent had been sexually abused. One woman said she put on weight after she was raped because “overweight is overlooked, and that’s the way I need to be.” It turned out many of these women had been making themselves obese for an unconscious reason: to protect themselves from the attention of men, who they believed would hurt them. Felitti suddenly realized: “What we had perceived as the problem ― major obesity ― was in fact, very frequently, the solution to problems that the rest of us knew nothing about.”
This insight led Felitti to launch a massive program of research, funded by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. He wanted to discover how all kinds of childhood trauma affect us as adults. He administered a simple questionnaire to 17,000 ordinary patients in San Diego, who were were coming just for general health care – anything from a headache to a broken leg. It asked if any of 10 bad things had happened to you as a kid, like being neglected, or emotionally abused. Then it asked if you had any of 10 psychological problems, like obesity or depression or addiction. He wanted to see what the matchup was.