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.
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