Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Anne Teitelman


Background: Obesity is a prevalent public health issue and affects more than 40 percent of adults in the United States. Women are more likely to be classified as obese than men, and are more likely to report disordered eating behaviors, particularly in young adulthood. Early life stressors, such as child maltreatment, can impact brain development in the areas related to decision-making and reward-driven behaviors like eating, which may contribute to the growing obesity epidemic. Neurobiological studies have shown that individuals who exhibit greater neural reactivity to highly palatable, rewarding foods who have poor impulse control may be more likely to engage in hedonic eating. This may be more pronounced in people with experiences of childhood maltreatment.

Methods: This dissertation will: 1) systematically review the relationship between childhood maltreatment and disordered eating in emerging adult women; 2) assess the relationship between hedonic hunger and neural responses to food cues; and 3) evaluate the relationship between impulsivity and neural responses to food cues. A moderation analysis will explore if the relationship between the neural response to food cues and hedonic hunger/impulsivity are strengthened by experiences of childhood maltreatment. A secondary data analysis was performed on a sample of emerging adult (18-24 years) women who participated in a two-day study using survey measures and functional magnetic resonance imaging to evaluate hedonic hunger, impulsivity and experiences of childhood maltreatment, and to measure how the brain responds to passive observation of visual food cues.

Results: Analysis of the literature revealed an association between experiences of childhood maltreatment and disordered eating behaviors in emerging adult women. Analysis of the fMRI data demonstrated differences in neural response to novel and repeated cues was associated with hedonic hunger, but not impulsivity in areas associated with executive control and interoceptive awareness. Experiences of childhood maltreatment did not alter these relationships.

Conclusion: The results from this study expand upon the current understanding of neurobiological vulnerabilities associated with risk for obesity in emerging adult women. Specifically, differences in neural response to novel and repeated cues may contribute to hedonic-driven eating behavior. These results require further exploration but will help to inform targeted screening and the development of tailored interventions to help those most at risk for obesity.