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EDIFY (Eating Disorders: Delineating Illness and Recovery Trajectories to Inform Personalised Prevention and Early Intervention in Young People) is an ambitious research project aiming to revolutionise how eating disorders are perceived, prevented and treated. Six integrated workstreams will address key questions, including: What are young people's experiences of eating disorders and recovery? What are the unique and shared risk factors in different groups? What helps or hinders recovery? How do the brain and behaviour change from early- to later-stage illness? How can we intervene earlier, quicker and in a more personalised way? This 4-year project, involving over 1000 participants, integrates arts, design and humanities with advanced neurobiological, psychosocial and bioinformatics approaches. Young people with lived experience of eating disorders are at the heart of EDIFY, serving as advisors and co-producers throughout. Ultimately, this work will expand public and professional perceptions of eating disorders, uplift under-represented voices and stimulate much-needed advances in policy and practice.
Clinical, epidemiological, and genetic findings support an overlap between eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and anxiety symptoms. However, little research has examined the role of genetics in the expression of underlying phenotypes. We investigated whether the anorexia nervosa (AN), OCD, or AN/OCD transdiagnostic polygenic scores (PGS) predict eating disorder, OCD, and anxiety symptoms in a large developmental cohort in a sex-specific manner.
Using summary statistics from Psychiatric Genomics Consortium AN and OCD genome-wide association studies, we conducted an AN/OCD transdiagnostic genome-wide association meta-analysis. We then calculated AN, OCD, and AN/OCD PGS in participants from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children to predict eating disorder, OCD, and anxiety symptoms, stratified by sex (combined N = 3212–5369 per phenotype).
The PGS prediction of eating disorder, OCD, and anxiety phenotypes differed between sexes, although effect sizes were small. AN and AN/OCD PGS played a more prominent role in predicting eating disorder and anxiety risk than OCD PGS, especially in girls. AN/OCD PGS provided a small boost over AN PGS in the prediction of some anxiety symptoms. All three PGS predicted higher compulsive exercise across different developmental timepoints [β = 0.03 (s.e. = 0.01) for AN and AN/OCD PGS at age 14; β = 0.05 (s.e. = 0.02) for OCD PGS at age 16] in girls.
Compulsive exercise may have a transdiagnostic genetic etiology, and AN genetic risk may play a role in the presence of anxiety symptoms. Converging with prior twin literature, our results also suggest that some of the contribution of genetic risk may be sex-specific.
The COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation measures are likely to have a marked effect on mental health. It is important to use longitudinal data to improve inferences.
To quantify the prevalence of depression, anxiety and mental well-being before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, to identify groups at risk of depression and/or anxiety during the pandemic.
Data were from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) index generation (n = 2850, mean age 28 years) and parent generation (n = 3720, mean age 59 years), and Generation Scotland (n = 4233, mean age 59 years). Depression was measured with the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire in ALSPAC and the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 in Generation Scotland. Anxiety and mental well-being were measured with the Generalised Anxiety Disorder Assessment-7 and the Short Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale.
Depression during the pandemic was similar to pre-pandemic levels in the ALSPAC index generation, but those experiencing anxiety had almost doubled, at 24% (95% CI 23–26%) compared with a pre-pandemic level of 13% (95% CI 12–14%). In both studies, anxiety and depression during the pandemic was greater in younger members, women, those with pre-existing mental/physical health conditions and individuals in socioeconomic adversity, even when controlling for pre-pandemic anxiety and depression.
These results provide evidence for increased anxiety in young people that is coincident with the pandemic. Specific groups are at elevated risk of depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is important for planning current mental health provisions and for long-term impact beyond this pandemic.
Eating behaviours in childhood are considered as risk factors for eating disorder behaviours and diagnoses in adolescence. However, few longitudinal studies have examined this association.
We investigated associations between childhood eating behaviours during the first ten years of life and eating disorder behaviours (binge eating, purging, fasting and excessive exercise) and diagnoses (anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, purging disorder and bulimia nervosa) at 16 years.
Data on 4760 participants from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children were included. Longitudinal trajectories of parent-rated childhood eating behaviours (8 time points, 1.3–9 years) were derived by latent class growth analyses. Eating disorder diagnoses were derived from self-reported, parent-reported and objectively measured anthropometric data at age 16 years. We estimated associations between childhood eating behaviours and eating disorder behaviours and diagnoses, using multivariable logistic regression models.
Childhood overeating was associated with increased risk of adolescent binge eating (risk difference, 7%; 95% CI 2 to 12) and binge eating disorder (risk difference, 1%; 95% CI 0.2 to 3). Persistent undereating was associated with higher anorexia nervosa risk in adolescent girls only (risk difference, 6%; 95% CI, 0 to 12). Persistent fussy eating was associated with greater anorexia nervosa risk (risk difference, 2%; 95% CI 0 to 4).
Our results suggest continuities of eating behaviours into eating disorders from early life to adolescence. It remains to be determined whether childhood eating behaviours are an early manifestation of a specific phenotype or whether the mechanisms underlying this continuity are more complex. Findings have the potential to inform preventative strategies for eating disorders.
Temperament and personality traits, including negative emotionality/neuroticism, may represent risk factors for eating disorders. Further, risk factors may differ by sex. We examined longitudinal temperament/personality pathways of risk for purging and binge eating in youth stratified by sex using data from a large-scale prospective study.
Temperament, borderline personality features, sensation seeking, ‘big five’ personality factors, and depressive symptoms were measured at five time points from early childhood to adolescence in 5812 adolescents (3215 females; 2597 males) in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. We conducted univariate analyses with these predictors of binge eating and purging at 14 and 16 years for total and sex-stratified samples. We used structural equation modeling (SEM) to fit data to a path analysis model of hypothesized associations.
Of the total sample, 12.54% engaged in binge eating and 7.05% in purging by 16 years. Prevalence was much greater and increased dramatically for females from 14 years (7.50% binge eating; 2.40% purging) to 16 years (15.80% binge eating; 9.50% purging). For both sexes, borderline personality, depressive symptoms and lower emotional stability predicted eating disorder behaviors; sensation seeking and conscientiousness were also significant predictors for females. SEM identified an ‘emotional instability’ pathway for females from early childhood into adolescence (RMSEA = 0.025, TLI = 0.937 and CFI = 0.970).
Binge eating and purging are common in female and male adolescents. Early temperament/personality factors related to difficulty regulating emotions were predictive of later adolescent eating disorder behaviors. Results have important clinical implications for eating disorder prevention and intervention.
Psychological distress is common among women of childbearing age, and limited longitudinal research suggests prolonged exposure to maternal distress is linked to child mental health problems. Estimating effects of maternal distress over time is difficult due to potential influences of child mental health problems on maternal distress and time-varying confounding by family circumstances.
We analysed the UK Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative sample with data collected throughout childhood. Adopting a marginal structural modelling framework, we investigated effects of exposure to medium/high levels of maternal psychological distress (Kessler-6 score 8+) on child mental health problems (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire borderline/abnormal behaviour cut-off) using maternal and child mental health data at 3, 5, 7 and 11 years, accounting for the influence of child mental health on subsequent maternal distress, and baseline and time-varying confounding.
Prior and concurrent exposures to maternal distress were associated with higher levels of child mental health problems at ages 3, 5, 7 and 11 years. For example, elevated risks of child mental health problems at 11 years were associated with exposure to maternal distress from 3 years [risk ratio (RR) 1.27 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.08–1.49)] to 11 years [RR 2.15 (95% CI 1.89–2.45)]. Prolonged exposure to maternal distress at ages 3, 5, 7 and 11 resulted in an almost fivefold increased risk of child mental health problems.
Prior, concurrent and, particularly, prolonged exposure to maternal distress raises risks for child mental health problems. Greater support for mothers experiencing distress is likely to benefit the mental health of their children.
There is limited knowledge about dietary patterns and nutrient/food intake during pregnancy in women with lifetime eating disorders (ED). The objective of the present study was to determine patterns of food and nutrient intake in women with lifetime ED as part of an existing longitudinal population-based cohort: the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Women with singleton pregnancies and no lifetime psychiatric disorders other than ED (n 9723) were compared with women who reported lifetime (ever) ED: (anorexia nervosa (AN, n 151), bulimia nervosa (BN, n 186) or both (AN+BN, n 77)). Women reported usual food consumption using a FFQ at 32 weeks of gestation. Nutrient intakes, frequency of consumption of food groups and overall dietary patterns were examined. Women with lifetime ED were compared with control women using linear regression and logistic regression (as appropriate) after adjustment for relevant covariates, and for multiple comparisons. Women with lifetime ED scored higher on the ‘vegetarian’ dietary pattern; they had a lower intake of meat, which was compensated by a higher consumption of soya products and pulses compared with the controls. Lifetime AN increased the risk for a high ( ≥ 2500 g/week) caffeine consumption in pregnancy. No deficiencies in mineral and vitamin intake were evident across the groups, although small differences were observed in macronutrient intakes. In conclusion, despite some differences in food group consumption, women with lifetime ED had similar patterns of nutrient intake to healthy controls. Important differences in relation to meat eating and vegetarianism were highlighted, as well as high caffeine consumption. These differences might have an important impact on fetal development.
Individuals born very preterm (VPT) are at increased risk of perinatal
brain injury and long-term cognitive and behavioral problems. Executive
functioning, in particular, has been shown to be impaired in VPT children
and adolescents. This study prospectively assessed executive function in
young adults who were born VPT (<33 weeks of gestation)
[n = 61; mean age, 22.25 (±1.07) years; range,
20.62–24.78 years] and controls [n = 64; mean
age, 23.20 (±1.48) years; range, 19.97–25.46 years].
Tests used comprised the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence
(WASI), the Hayling Sentence Completion Test (HSCT), the Controlled Oral
Word Association Test (COWAT), the Animal and Object test, the
Trail-Making Test (TMT), and the Test of Attentional Performance (TAP).
VPT participants showed specific executive function impairments in tasks
involving response inhibition and mental flexibility, even when adjusting
for IQ, gender, and age. No significant associations were observed between
executive function test scores and perinatal variables or neonatal
ultrasound classification. The results suggest that, although free from
major physical disability, VPT young adults perform worse than controls on
tasks involving selective aspects of executive processing, such as mental
flexibility and response inhibition. (JINS, 2007, 13,
Low birth weight, prematurity and higher miscarriage rates have
previously been reported in women with eating disorders.
To determine whether women with a history of eating disorders are at
higher risk of major adverse perinatal outcomes.
Adjusted birth weight, preterm delivery and miscarriage history were
compared in those with a history of eating disorders (anorexia nervosa
(n=171), bulimia nervosa (n=199) and
both (n=82)) and those with other
(n=1166) and no psychiatric disorders
(n=10 636) in a longitudinal cohort study.
The group with bulimia nervosa had significantly higher rates of past
miscarriages (relative risk ratio 2.0, P=0.01) and the
group with anorexia nervosa delivered babies of significantly lower birth
weight than the general population (P=0.01), which was
mainly explained by lower pre-pregnancy body mass index. Preterm delivery
rates were comparable across groups.
Women with a history of eating disorders are at higher risk of major
adverse obstetric outcomes. Antenatal services should be aware of this
The main eating disorders so far described are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. This chapter will concentrate, for reasons of space, on the first two.
Historically, the eating disorders have all suffered from being seen as a “backwater” of psychiatry and medicine, as seen by the late acceptance of all of them as illnesses, the still prevalent view of anorexia and bulimia nervosa as “slimmers' diseases” and the fact that binge-eating disorder has only established itself as a diagnosable disorder in the fourth edition of The Diagnostic Standard Manual (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994). This has occurred despite the description of anorexia nervosa as an illness since the 1860s (Gull, 1874; Lasegue, 1873) and bulimia nervosa since 1979 (Russell, 1979).
Two other profound discrepancies exist between the emphasis that these illnesses have been afforded and the reality regarding them. Anorexia has the highest morbidity and mortality of any psychiatric illness (Nielsen et al., 1998) and presents a similar burden of care to that of severe psychoses (Treasure and Serpell, 2001).
Both anorexia and bulimia present primarily, but not exclusively, as disorders of adolescence for a number of postulated reasons (see below); however, as the illnesses often run a chronic course, professionals in all disciplines, beyond childhood, will see “graduate” cases as well as those of primary onset. Consequently, paediatricians and psychiatrists managing adolescents (traditionally puberty—adult; usually considered as 14–18 years) will see prepubertalonset child “graduates” and pre- and postpubertal adolescent-onset patients.
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