A Mother and Child Bulimic Connection?

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
November/December 2005 Volume 16, Number 6
©2005 Gürze Books

Among preadolescent and adolescent girls, having a mother with a history of an eating disorder increases the risk that the girls will also develop eating disorders. However, other modifiable factors may be of as much importance, according to a multi-site study.

Alison E. Field, ScD, and colleagues used data from 5,897 girls and 4,491 boys 9 to 14 years of age who are participants in the ongoing Growing Up Today Study, and who were followed for up to 5 years. Subjects in the study live throughout the U.S., and all have mothers who are registered nurses. The study, based on self-report questionnaires, is being conducted by researchers at Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard School of Public Health, all in Boston; Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT; and Stanford School of Medicine, Palo Alto, CA.

What the study has shown so far

As Dr. Field reported at the Eating Disorders Research Society meeting in Toronto in September, during the 5 years of follow-up 7.1% of the females and 1.1% of the males started to binge eat or purge (vomiting or using laxatives) at least once a week to control their weight. Approximately 4% of the mothers reported a history of an eating disorder.

Boys and girls whose mothers reported having a history of an eating disorder were more likely than their peers to start to binge eat or purge at least weekly. Despite this, importance of thinness to their peers and fathers and media influences were found to be equally important risk factors, at least among the girls.

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