Tracing Growth and Risks among Children of Mothers with Eating Disorders

British researchers track potential associations between a mother’s eating disorder and her child’s growth.

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
May/June Volume 25, Number 3
©2014 iaedp

In the first large study of its type, a team of British researchers have analyzed the long-term effects of maternal eating disorders upon their children’s growth patterns. The team not only found that the children’s growth trajectories were affected by their mothers’ eating disorders, but also that such children themselves may be at increased risk of developing disordered eating patterns (BMJ Open. April 3, 2014).

Dr. Abigail Easter and colleagues at Kings College and the University of Bristol investigated growth and body mass index from birth until 10 years of age in children of women with and without lifetime eating disorders. Associations of growth with general psychopathology and to gender were then evaluated. The team used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a large, longitudinal birth cohort study (Int J Epidemiol. 2012; 42:111). At 12 weeks’ gestation, mothers were asked if they had a history of psychiatric problems, including AN, BN and other disorders.

Data were available for 10,190 children (4962 girls, 5228 boys); 1.6% of mothers reported a history of anorexia nervosa (AN),1.6% reported a history of bulimia nervosa (BN), 0.7% reported a history of AN and BN, and 9% reported histories of other types of psychiatric disorders. Pre-pregnancy body mass indexes (BMI, kg/m2) of 21.3 and 21.5, respectively, for women with AN and AN plus BN were lower than those of women in the control group.

Growth patterns were affected by type of disorder and gender

Male children of women with BN were taller than control group children, while male children of women with a history of AN and BN and female children of women with AN were shorter. Female children of women with AN had a lower mean BMI, -0.35 kg/m2 at 2 years of age, compared with the control children, but did not differ by age 10.

While some prior studies have suggested that children of women with BN may be at risk of becoming overweight or obese (J Pediatr. 2009; 154:55), in this study higher weight was observed for male children in all maternal ED diagnoses. Conversely, female children of women with AN grew more slowly in early childhood.

The study produced several new findings about growth patterns of children of mothers with eating disorders. Specifically, female children of women with AN had an increased risk of reduced growth during early childhood, while the risk of more rapid growth was more apparent in male children of mothers with eating disorders. With the worldwide rise in obesity, and the fact that early childhood growth has been found to predict weight gain in adolescence and adulthood, the authors stressed the importance of associations between maternal eating disorders and their children’s growth patterns. The authors stressed the potential importance of carefully monitoring growth of children of mothers with eating disorders. They also suggest that a better understanding of what causes the observed growth differences may help in better understanding obesity.

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