Is High IQ a Risk Factor for Eating and Food Issues?

According to results from a recent study, children of women with eating issues (ED) like anorexia (AN) and bulimia (BN) have higher IQs and increased working memory capacity when compared to children with no genetic vulnerability to EDs. Radha Kothari of the Behavioral and Brain Sciences Unit at the Institute of Child Health of the University College London conducted the study to determine if IQ and working memory (WM) were indicators of risk for EDs or outcomes of ED symptoms after illness onset. Kothari chose to focus on young children to determine if these markers are present long before symptoms appear.

For the study, Kothari examined the IQ and WM levels of over 6,000 children born to mothers with EDs. The children were assessed at age 8 and again for intelligence, inhibition, and attention at age 10. When compared to children with no family history of EDs, the children born to AN mothers had much higher IQs and larger WM capacity than those born to non-ED mothers. These same children also had increases in visuo-spatial processing but had decreased attention control. Children from mothers with BN had opposite results with normal range IQs, WM and decreases in visuo-spatial processing.

These findings are in contrast to some existing research on EDs which suggest impaired visuo-spatial processing in anorexia. Kothari believes that those studies may reveal evidence of consequences of EDs as the participants in those examinations are assessed after symptom onset. In this study, however, the children were evaluated long before symptoms appeared.

These results show that therefore, perhaps impairments to visuo-spatial processing are a direct result of neurological changes that occur from AN. Kothari noted that although the children of AN mothers appeared to excel in most measures evaluated, they did take longer to complete attention based tasks, which could indicate a weakness in attention control.

On a positive note, the impairments and nuances revealed in these children differ from those found in children at risk for other psychological conditions like obsessive compulsive behavior and schizophrenia. This implies that the markers studied in this analysis are unique to the development and risk for EDs. Kothari added, “Our findings suggest that high intelligence, increased WM capacity and impaired attentional control might be intermediate phenotypes on the pathway between genetic vulnerability and the development of an ED.”

Kothari, R., et al. (2013). The neuropsychological profile of children at high risk of developing an eating disorder. Psychological Medicine 43.7 (2013): 1543-54. ProQuest. Web.

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  • allison


    July 4th, 2013 at 10:38 PM

    seems like high iq doesnt really mean you make the right choices on everything in life…!

  • karen


    July 5th, 2013 at 5:52 AM

    All of this seems a little counterintuitive, given that you would think that oh, this person is smart, she knows what is right and wrong to be doing to her body.

    But this has nothing to do with how intelligent one is. If he or she has a poor self image and body image for whatever reason then there could be problems with an eating disorder. It is sad but there are just those people who are never able to see themselves how other people do and that in the end messes with what they think of themselves and how they treat themselves.

    Eating disorders can lead to a great deal of sadness in families, and what makes it even worse is that now they seem to follow family lines, and if your mother or someone close to you struggled then there is a far greater likelihood that this could impact future generations as well.

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