Risk Factors of Eating Disorders
A wide variety of factors have been considered important in the onset of eating disorders. Scientific studies of many of these factors have been inconclusive in verifying that they do indeed increase the risk of eating disorders.
Gender and Ethnicity
However, recently there have been some careful reviews of this literature and several risk factors have in fact been identified. One of the most potent risk factors is female gender, particularly adolescent or young adult females. Also, members of certain ethnic groups such as Asians, Native Americans, and African Americans appear less likely to have eating disorders than other ethnic groups.
Weight and Shape
Several factors focusing on weight or shape have been found to increase risk for eating disorders, including higher body mass index, concerns about weight, and a history of dieting. Also, a history of psychiatric problems, such as depression, anxiety, or substance use may increase the risk of eating disorders, as well as certain problems in childhood such as childhood eating difficulties or sexual abuse.
Recently there has been considerable interest in both genetic and biological factors which may contribute to the onset of eating disorders. For both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, behavioral genetic studies using twin designs have indicated that there is a substantial genetic effect for the liability for each of these disorders.
Researchers are now examining genetic influences by searching for genes, and some gene candidates have been found to be associated with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, although this research remains relatively inconclusive in terms of genetic effects. There are also numerous studies indicating that certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin, may be abnormal in eating disordered individuals.
Continued research on the genetics and biological function of people with eating disorders may reveal additional factors which increase the risk for these conditions.