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Genetic epidemiology of binging and vomiting

  • Patrick F. Sullivan (a1), Cynthia M. Bulik (a1) and Kenneth S. Kendler (a1)



Bulimia nervosa is typically defined as the combination of the behaviours of binging and vomiting. We sought to clarify the relationship of these behaviours from a genetic epidemiological perspective.


Using data on the lifetime history of binging and vomiting from a personally interviewed population-based sample of female twins (n = 1897), we applied bivariate twin modelling to estimate the sources of variation for these traits.


The association between having ever binged (23.6%) and having ever induced vomiting (4.8%) was very strong (odds ratio=8.78, P < 0.0001). The best-fitting model indicated that lifetime binging and vomiting were both heritable (46% and 72%) and influenced by individual-specific environmental factors (54% and 28%). The overlap between the genetic (ra = 0.74) and individual-specific environmental factors (re = 0.48) for the two traits was substantial. No violations of the equal environment assumption were evident.


Including binging and vomiting under the rubric of bulimia nervosa appears to be appropriate. Our data are consistent with the identification of binging and vomiting as complex traits resulting from the interplay of multiple genes and individual-specific environmental influences. In contrast to ‘environmentalist’ theories, our results suggest that genetic influences may be of particular relevance to the aetiology of binging and vomiting.


Corresponding author

Dr Sullivan, Department of Psychiatry, Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, PO Box 980126, Richmond, VA, 23298-0126. USA. Tel: 804 828 8129: Fax: 804 828 1471


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Genetic epidemiology of binging and vomiting

  • Patrick F. Sullivan (a1), Cynthia M. Bulik (a1) and Kenneth S. Kendler (a1)
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