Eating disorders pose risks to health and wellbeing in young adolescents, but prospective studies of risk factors are scarce and this has impeded prevention efforts. This longitudinal study aimed to examine risk factors for eating disorder symptoms in a population-based birth cohort of young adolescents at 12 years. Participants from the Gateshead Millennium Study birth cohort (n = 516; 262 girls and 254 boys) completed self-report questionnaire measures of eating disorder symptoms and putative risk factors at age 7 years, 9 years and 12 years, including dietary restraint, depressive symptoms and body dissatisfaction. Body mass index (BMI) was also measured at each age. Within-time correlates of eating disorder symptoms at 12 years of age were greater body dissatisfaction for both sexes and, for girls only, higher depressive symptoms. For both sexes, higher eating disorder symptoms at 9 years old significantly predicted higher eating disorder symptoms at 12 years old. Dietary restraint at 7 years old predicted boys' eating disorder symptoms at age 12, but not girls'. Factors that did not predict eating disorder symptoms at 12 years of age were BMI (any age), girls’ dietary restraint at 7 years and body dissatisfaction at 7 and 9 years of age for both sexes. In this population-based study, different patterns of predictors and correlates of eating disorder symptoms were found for girls and boys. Body dissatisfaction, a purported risk factor for eating disorder symptoms in young adolescents, developed concurrently with eating disorder symptoms rather than preceding them. However, restraint at age 7 and eating disorder symptoms at age 9 years did predict 12-year eating disorder symptoms. Overall, our findings suggest that efforts to prevent disordered eating might beneficially focus on preadolescent populations.
Evans, E. H., Adamson, A. J., Basterfield, L., Le Couteur, A., Reilly, J. K., Reilly, J. J., & Parkinson, K. N. (2017). Risk factors for eating disorder symptoms at 12 years of age: A 6-year longitudinal cohort study. Appetite, 108, 12-20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2016.09.005