The idea that childhood trauma might have a connection with adult health problems came to Felitti almost by accident, according to a recent interview. He was running through a series of questions when he accidentally asked a client in the weight-loss program, “How much did you weigh when you first became sexually active?” instead of “How old were you when you were first sexually active?” The patient said, “Forty pounds,” and went on to reveal, through tears, that it had been with her father. Felitti says, “I remember thinking, ‘This is only the second incest case I’ve heard about in 23 years of practice.'”
As time went by, and Felitti began probing the subject more deeply, he realized that many of his clients had suffered sexual abuse and other traumas—both in childhood and in adulthood. At first, fellow professionals didn’t want to believe what he was telling them—in part, it was possible to deny the validity of his findings thanks to the small number of people he’d interviewed. (Medical studies, to be statistically valid, need to include a reasonably significant number of people.) But Felitti found an interested ear in Dr. Robert Anda, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control.
Felitti remembered, vividly, a remark a sexual abuse victim had made during an interview: “Overweight is overlooked, and that’s the way I need to be.”