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Anorexia May Be Linked to Birth Month

Spring, early summer babies at more risk for eating disorder, study shows

THURSDAY, July 26, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- You might not put much stock in astrology, but Scottish researchers say a woman's zodiac sign might have something to do with her risk of anorexia.

A new study says girls born in the spring and early summer have a 10 percent to 15 percent higher risk of developing anorexia than those born in other months. The findings are reported in the September issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Anorexia nervosa afflicts 0.5 percent to 3 percent of all teen-age girls, making it one of the most common emotional disorders in that age group. Untreated, the condition leads to self-imposed starvation, even death.

The causes of anorexia aren't well understood.

In the latest study, Dr. John Eagles of the Royal Cornhill Hospital, in Aberdeen, Scotland, and his colleagues reviewed case reports for the birth months of 446 female anorexics and nearly 5,800 women without the condition.

Women born in the first half of the year were more likely to have developed the eating disorder, the researchers found. Particularly at risk were those born between March and June.

While how birth season affects anorexia risk is not clear, the researchers say maternal exposure to winter infection, especially influenza, might play a part. Seasonal changes in diet also may play a role, Eagles says, though most industrialized nations now experience little such variability.

Researchers long have suspected that schizophrenia is linked to birth season. The risk of the disease is greatest among those born in the first four months of the year, again perhaps because of maternal infection.

Eagles says while there's "no generally recognized connection" between anorexia and schizophrenia, "many people with severe anorexia nervosa have more in common with schizophrenics than neurotics. It's more like a psychosis, with the delusions about body shape and body weight," he says.

Dr. Nada Stotland, a psychiatrist and women's health expert at Rush Medical College in Chicago, says anorexics often display psychotic behavior. And although Stotland says the latest findings are interesting, "they fall short of proving a link between birth season and the eating disorder."

What To Do

Although the link between birth month and anorexia is intriguing, it's too small to be concerned about when you're planning a pregnancy, Eagles says.

For more on eating disorders, visit the Center for Eating Disorders or the National Eating Disorders Organization.

SOURCES: Interviews with John Eagles, M.D., consultant psychiatrist, Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen, Scotland; Nada Stotland, M.D., professor of psychiatry and obstetrics/gynecology, Rush Medical College, Chicago; September 2001 International Journal of Eating Disorders
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