Bulimia has been linked to psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, and substance misuse. Other behavioral problems, including aggression, oppositional defiance, and impulsivity, have also been shown to increase the risk for disordered eating and bulimia in white American girls. However, to date there has been little research focusing on how these behaviors and mental health issues contribute to the development of bulimia in African-American girls. Previous studies have demonstrated that externalizing behaviors predict eating issues, but this relationship has not been examined longitudinally. To address this gap, Lindsay P. Bodell of the Department of Psychology at Florida State University recently led a study that looked at how conduct behavior and impulsivity influenced the onset of bulimia in African American girls over a period of 9 years.
Bodell evaluated data collected from 119 African-American first grade girls who were part of a larger study piloted by the Johns Hopkins University Baltimore Prevention Research Center. Bodell analyzed data that was gathered yearly as the girls who were part of a control condition or classroom intervention program progressed from first grade to tenth grade. She found that contrary to prior research, conduct issues and oppositional behavior did not predict bulimia in the participants. However, impulsivity exhibited in youth was a significant risk factor for the later development of disordered eating in general and bulimia in particular.
Bodell believes that lack of behavioral control may contribute to impulsivity, which could cause young girls to sustain a lack of control in other behavioral areas such as eating and substance use. Additionally, impulsivity could also be a catalyst for poor socialization, which could influence future externalizing behaviors in this sample of adolescents. Overall, the results provide evidence that impulsivity is a clear risk factor for bulimia, and children being treated for impulsive behaviors should be monitored closely for eating problems. Clinicians who recognize externalizing behaviors, particularly in young African American girls, may want to implement strategies to help prevent the onset of bulimia in adolescence. Bodell added, “In future studies, researchers should track the trajectory of associations between externalizing behaviors and disordered eating in prepuberty (e.g., prior to the tenth grade) and should specifically compare the relationship between externalizing behaviors and bulimic symptoms in different racial and ethnic groups.”
Bodell, L. P., Joiner, T. E., Ialongo, N. S. (2012, January 30). Longitudinal Association Between Childhood Impulsivity and Bulimic Symptoms in African American Adolescent Girls. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027093
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