Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a Risk for Developing Eating Disorders

Those with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa often share some traits with individuals who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. Eating disorders are characterized by compulsive behaviors that surround not only eating rituals and habits developed to rid the body of calories, but also the concealing of the eating disorder. People with eating disorders often establish a complicated schedule of behaviors that help them absorb few calories and avoid questions about their habits.
A new study conducted by a team assembled by the South London and Maudsley NHS foundation Trust’s (SLaM) OCD Service and researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry provides evidence that childhood OCD is a risk factor for the development of an eating disorder during the teen years. The study’s findings are published online in the journal Psychological Medicine.

As many as one in ten children who have OCD will go on to struggle with an eating disorder.

The research represents the largest follow-up study on childhood OCD conducted in the United Kingdom. The researchers followed up with 126 individuals who had, as children, several years before been diagnosed with OCD. The researchers contacted the individuals up to nine years after the original assessment and asked them questions about eating disorders.

Lead author Dr. Nadia Micali said that the study was designed to understand the factors that are associated with the development of eating disorders in adolescents. Dr. Micali reported that females who had a history of OCD and a family history of eating disorders were at a significant risk for developing an eating disorder.

A childhood diagnosis for OCD may help physicians screen adolescent patients for the signs of an eating disorder and prescribe early treatment or even prevention in order to help the patient avoid the difficult struggles of an established eating disorder.

Dr. Isobel Heyman leads SLaM’s OCD Service and believes that the research will help SLaM and other treatment programs around the world treat OCD patients more effectively and help them learn to prevent the potential development of an eating disorder.

Longitudinal studies are helpful in establishing possible risk factors for eating disorders. The combination of environmental and biological risk factors makes it very difficult to predict how eating disorders may be diagnosed. However, in the case of OCD patients, the significant association between OCD and eating disorders may make it possible to prevent some occurrences of eating disorders.

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