Identifying risk factors for eating disorder symptoms may help us develop more evidence-based prevention mentions. Personally not convinced that prevention is really possible with the types of individual-focused programs we have today, I would argue that identifying risk factors may at least help us determine which individuals should be screened in subsequent years. If they do develop eating disorders, they will hopefully be more likely to receive early intervention and treatment.
To identify predictors of eating disorder symptoms, Elizabeth Evans and colleagues (2016) conducted a longitudinal study that measured various putative risk factors at ages 7, 9, and 12 in a group of boys and girls. The authors also wanted to identify correlates of eating disorder symptoms at 12 years of age. They measured eating attitudes and dietary restraint, BMI, body dissatisfaction, and depressive symptoms.
- 516 participants; 262 girls and 254 boys
- all individuals were residents of Gateshead, located
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The link between urban living and mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression has been known for quite some time (Sundquist et al., 2004). In one study, Sundquist et al found that individuals living in a densely populated area had a 68-77% higher risk of developing psychosis and 12-22% higher risk of developing depression.
The question then arises, do eating disorders follow a similar pattern? And if yes, what are some possible explanations? Certainly we know that both genetic and environmental factors are involved in the development of eating disorders, but what specific factors and to what extent remains unclear.
In this study, Gabrielle E. van Son and colleagues set out to explore whether increasing urbanization was an environmental risk factor for the development of eating disorders.
In order to answer this question, the researchers had a network general practitioners (GPs) record each newly diagnosed case of anorexia … Continue reading →
Eating disorders typically begin in adolescence. One common explanation for this is that during adolescence females are increasingly exposed to the media, thin models, and dieting. While this is probably true to some extent, it doesn’t explain why the rates of eating disorders are quite low despite the high levels of exposure to thin models in the media. Out of 100 girls, only a handful develop eating disorders, yet all of them are exposed to the same magazines and TV shows.
This means there must be some other factors that differ between this group of girls. One hypothesis is that hormonal changes during puberty may modulate the genetic risk factors for eating disorders. These changes may “turn on” genes that predispose individuals to eating disorders. Previous research has shown that genetic factors modulate disordered eating (eating disorders have a high heritability), but how? What are the mechanisms of this … Continue reading →
You might have heard that individuals born between the months of June – August (or sometimes March – August) have a higher chance of developing anorexia nervosa. But is it true? A lot of studies have been done to investigate the question of whether a season of birth (or a month) correlates with a higher risk of anorexia or bulimia nervosa. The results are inconsistent, weak, and fraught with methodological problems.
But first, how could seasons (or the average temperature during birth, or conception) have an effect on the etiology of eating disorders? What’s the hypothesis?
There seem to be two main ideas (summarized in Winje et al., 2012):
- alterations in neuropsychological function as a result of sunlight exposure during gestation or postpartum, maternal infections during pregnancy, or nutritional changes (seasonal variation in nutrients, vitamins)
- alterations in fertility/reproductive patterns of the parents due to cultural influences, disordered eating in
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When my younger sister first told me she wanted to become a vegetarian, I was worried. My biggest fear was that she would, like I did, develop an eating disorder. In high-school, I didn’t eat meat for roughly 14 months, and though I can’t be sure now of what my reasons were at the time, in retrospect, I do think in large part it was just a convenient way to avoid yet another food group. It was a legitimate reason to restrict my intake.
But is there any evidence that this behaviour (becoming vegetarian as a convenient way to restrict intake) is common among individuals with eating disorders? What is the relationship between dietary restraint, eating disorder symptoms, and vegetarianism? Is vegetarianism a risk factor for developing an eating disorder or do eating disorders lead many to adopt a vegetarian diet as a socially acceptable excuse to avoid eating specific … Continue reading →
A not-so-recent, but interesting paper by Cynthia Bulik and colleagues outlines an interesting model for perinatal risk factors in the development of anorexia nervosa. The model “focuses on adverse perinatal events and prematurity as risk factors for AN and encompasses the potential role of passive gene-environment correlation in perpetuating AN risk.”
Importantly, this model “provides intriguing data on a potential cycle of risk for at least a subset of individuals with AN.” The word subset is important: this model, if true – and we don’t know yet, undoubtedly applies only to a proportion of individuals that develop anorexia nervosa, so keep that in mind.
(In case you are wondering, because I was, perinatal period starts at 140 days of gestation and ends 28 days post birth, prenatal period is any time before birth.)
Trying to figure out the risk factors for anorexia, a rare disorder (<1% of the population), is … Continue reading →