Does Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior Predict Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders (ED) can manifest in different ways and most often develop during adolescence. Anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia, and binge eating are just some of the problems that teens struggle with when they develop eating and food issues. Existing research has demonstrated a link between obsessive-compulsive behaviors and disordered eating, but little attention has been given to how the presence of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children affects the development of ED in adolescence. In order to provide evidence of the relationship between OCD and ED from childhood through young adulthood, N. Micali of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Kings College in London conducted a study that followed 126 children over 9 years and assessed them for symptoms of ED.

The participants and their parents answered questions relating to ED using the Developmental and Well-being Assessment. All of the children had symptoms of OCD at the beginning of the study. After 5 years, 13% of the children had developed ED. Four of the 16 children who developed ED had symptoms at baseline, but the remaining participants had no symptoms of ED when they were first enrolled into the study. Specifically, it was found that the children who presented with ED at the start of the study were twice as likely to develop more severe symptoms of ED than those who had no symptoms initially. The study also revealed that a family history of ED was a strong risk factor, representing 12% of those who developed ED, and female gender also increased the risk for problem eating.

Nearly one-third of the participants who had no ED at the onset of the study but later developed ED exhibited eating-related obsessive-compulsive behaviors at follow-up. The results of this study add to the existing evidence suggesting that childhood OCD does increase the risk of developing ED in adolescence. Micali added, “The preliminary evidence that, in the context of a child/adolescent presenting to services with OCD, girls, those with a family history of ED, and children presenting with disordered eating or food-related obsessions and compulsions might be at particular risk for developing a later ED is of relevance to clinicians in the field.”

Micali, N., Hilton, K., Natatani, E., Heyman, I., Turner, C., Mataix-Cols, D. Is Childhood OCD a Risk Factor for Eating Disorders Later in Life? A Longitudinal Study. Psychological Medicine 41.12 (2011): 2507-513. Print.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

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

  • Leave a Comment
  • Jayden


    February 2nd, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    Would be no surprise if these two things correlated because if you have an obsession with one thing then it might be likely that you will be obsessive about another

  • Lizzie


    February 3rd, 2012 at 5:07 AM

    I don’t think that it is a huge jump to believe that one of these can lead to the other.

    But I do think that you have to be careful when it comes to making conclusions like this.

    What if the only think that you are looking for in someone that you suspect has abnormal eating patterns is an issue with ocd in other parts of their lives. And what if they don’t show this. Are you automatically going to assume that they can’t then be a disordered eater? That could be dangerous if you get that kind of tunnel vision.

  • alec smith

    alec smith

    February 3rd, 2012 at 8:49 AM

    Lizzie-well OCD can interfere with even the smallest of things for an individual.and eating problems can occur in a situation like OCD.we need more studies and research no doubt but it would be just as imperfect to say it does not lead to ED as it is to CONCLUDE that it does.

  • Lizzie


    February 4th, 2012 at 5:46 AM

    @ any dissenters- all I say is that you have to be careful and look at all of the issues before you automatically assume that one thing is going to lead to another. That’s all.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.