Eating too much in childhood predicts development of bulimia nervosa in adulthood

A new study has found that being overweight and eating too much in childhood was predictive of developing Bulimia Nervosa (BN) in adult life.

But childhood feeding problems did not predict later Anorexia Nervosa (AN).

This study was the first to compare sister pairs where one sibling developed an eating disorder and the other did not to investigate early feeding experiences as risk factors.

154 sister pairs were compared. Mothers were sent questionnaires to report on their daughters' childhood feeding experiences. Lifetime diagnosis of eating disorder was obtained with a semi-structured interview.

It was found that their having been overweight during childhood significantly predicted a diagnosis of BN, as did eating too much during childhood.

However, gastrointestinal problems, eating non-food items, such as wallpaper (known as 'pica'), not eating enough, unpleasant meals between the ages of one and ten and selective eating during the first year of life did not predict a diagnosis of eating disorder.

'Picky eating' was significantly protective for BN, but did not predict AN.

This study showed that sister pairs where one developed AN did not differ in maternal reports of eating habits during childhood, whereas siblings with BN in adulthood were significantly more overweight, less picky and ate more as children, compared with their healthy siblings.

The authors of the study suggest that a 'disinhibited' eating style could be an individual risk factor (i.e. not shared between sisters) for BN. This hypothesis needs to be tested with further research, but could have important implications for the prevention of eating disorders.

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