Experts Define Traits Driving Eating Disorders

Perfectionism, anxiety and age at first period are all key, they say

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FRIDAY, Sept. 23, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- An international team of researchers say they've identified six core traits possibly linked to genes associated with the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia nervosa.

"The research underscores how critically important genetics are in the origins of eating disorders," lead researcher Dr. Cynthia M. Bulik, director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

The researchers note that individuals with a mother or sister affected by an eating disorder are 12 times more likely to develop a similar disorder themselves, compared to individuals with no such history.

Drawing on statistical analyses and expert opinion, the team define the six core traits as:

  • Obsessionality - a form of perfectionism
  • Age at menarche (start of menstruation)
  • Anxiety
  • Lifetime minimum body mass index (BMI)
  • Concern over mistakes
  • Food-related obsessions.

The findings, which may help move researchers closer to identifying specific genes linked to these eating disorders, were published in two papers in the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B.

The researchers found that minimum BMI (a measure of weight), concern over mistakes, age at menarche and food-related obsessions seemed to be more closely linked with bulimia, while anxiety and obsessionality seemed more closely linked with anorexia. This suggests that, although the two disorders are closely related, they may have some underlying differences, the researchers noted.

They zeroed in on these six core traits after analyzing more than 100 behaviors and personality traits believed to be linked to anorexia and bulimia.

Experts estimate that 10 million females and 1 million males are affected by either anorexia or bulimia nationwide.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about eating disorders.

SOURCE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, news release, Sept. 9, 2005

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