Eating problems in childhood predictive of disorders in adulthood


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Eating conflicts, struggles with food, and unpleasant meals in early childhood are linked to the development of eating disorders in adulthood, according to a report published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Dr. Lisa A. Kotler and colleagues, from the New York State Psychiatric Institute, assessed the eating patterns and outcomes of approximately 800 children over a 17-year period.

Subjects with bulimia nervosa in early adolescence were 20 times more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder in adulthood than subjects without the disorder in adolescence. A 35-fold increased risk was identified for subjects with bulimia nervosa in late adolescence.

The presence of bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa symptoms in adolescence correlated with the presence of these symptoms in adulthood. For both disorders, patient gender and eating symptoms in adolescence were predictive of eating disorder symptoms in young adulthood.

Early childhood eating problems were also significantly tied to the development of adulthood eating disorders (p < 0.05).

While early eating problems were associated with an increased risk of later disorders, the absolute prevalence of eating disorders in young adulthood was low. Therefore, most adolescents with eating disorder symptoms will not have an eating disorder in young adulthood, the authors state.

The ideal treatment for adolescents with eating disorder symptoms remains unclear. Since most will not develop full-blown disorders, a careful monitoring approach may be the most appropriate treatment option, the researchers conclude.

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