Bulimic Tendencies in Rats Similar to Those of Adolescent Girls

Puberty is a time of emotional and physical development. It is also a time when many girls start exhibiting the first signs of eating problems. “Rates of bulimic symptoms increase significantly with advancing pubertal development and predict the development of BN later in adolescence,” said Kelly L. Klump, Ph.D. of the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University, and lead author of a recent study exploring bulimic trends in adolescent rats. “Early maturing girls are at increased risk for BN (bulimia nervosa) and binge eating both during and after puberty.” Most girls who develop food issues usually do so later in adolescence, but new research is suggesting that symptoms that are present prior to puberty and in early adolescence may predict the development of more severe food problems later on. Klump said, “The presence of increased pubertal risk for binge eating in animals would provide strong confirming evidence of biological influences, as animals do not experience key psychological risk factors (e.g., increased body dissatisfaction) during puberty.”

Klump chose the Boggiano rat model for her study on binge eating for several reasons. “This model identifies binge eating resistant (BER) and binge eating prone (BEP) female rats based on the consumption of intermittently presented, highly palatable food (PF; foods that are high in fat and sugar with little nutritional value; e.g., vanilla frosting) in adulthood,” said Klump. “In summary, the BER/BEP model represents many of the phenomenological and distributional qualities of binge eating in women.” After examining 66 rats from pre-puberty to adulthood, she found that the tendency to binge was first expressed in puberty. “Results revealed dramatic increases in the binge prone phenotype across puberty, such that there was little evidence of individual differences in binge proneness during pre-early puberty but significant differences during mid-late puberty and adulthood,” said Klump. Although the rat model does not consider how body image, social pressure and other psychological stressors impact binge eating, the results are still important. “These findings are significant in suggesting that increases in binge eating and eating disorders characterized by binge eating during and after puberty may be at least partially attributable to biological factors.” Klump added, “Indeed, the presence of these phenotypic effects in animals strongly suggests that factors other than psychological influences (e.g., increased body dissatisfaction) contribute to individual differences in binge eating risk in females during puberty.”

Klump, Kelly L., Jessica L. Suisman, Kristen M. Culbert, Deborah A. Kashy, and Cheryl L. Sisk. “Binge Eating Proneness Emerges during Puberty in Female Rats: A Longitudinal Study.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 120.4 (2011): 948-55. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • kim


    December 2nd, 2011 at 7:38 PM

    Hoping that this study is very useful in understanding not only the causes and reactions that girls with bulimia have, but also new ways to offer them treatment that will help them to turn their lives around

  • alice


    December 2nd, 2011 at 10:11 PM

    eating problems in adolescents are a bane for any parent no doubt.also it is good to know that it can be predicted prior to its onset.but with so many threats looming for a teen,is it really practical to check for each and every thing? would that not lead to a situation wherein you are rushing your pre-teen to the clinic everyday to check if he or she exhibits symptoms for something that could develop later on??

  • Duncan


    December 3rd, 2011 at 6:47 AM

    There are too many variables is the lives of adolescent girls for this to have any correlation to this activity in rats. I am sorry but if I had a teen daughter with bulimia, I would want concrete evidence of things that helped with treatment in these same kinds of teen girls and not something that was manufactured in a rat and lab setting! I can’t be the only parent that feels this way. These kinds of studies only look at biology, but have to completely ignore the social factors and stresses that lead human girls to develop eating disorders. I hardly think that rat moms are sitting around causing self esteem issues or that the rats are being bullied and made to feel bad about themselves. Sorry but it’s just not the same.

  • Patty


    December 5th, 2011 at 6:51 AM

    Duncan:YOu have a valid point there.Although I do agree with things in the study you have made an important comment about the other factors that influence humans and are absent when it comes to rats.Perhaps we need to step up our research to include social factors as well.

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