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expert reaction to association of exposure to infections in childhood with eating disorders in adolescent girls

Research published in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that infections treated with anti-infective agents are associated with increased risk of eating disorders.

Dr Dasha Nicholls, Chair of the eating disorder faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“While this is good quality research which builds on our understanding of the biology of eating disorders, the findings do not show a causal relationship between childhood infections and an increased risk of eating disorders in adolescence.”

“The biological causes of mental illness is an evolving and important area for research. It is important that psychiatrists consider the biological, psychological and social factors that may contribute to a patient’s illness. What this study was not able to tell us is why girls are so much more susceptible than boys and this should be an area for future research.”

Prof Sir Peter Lachmann, Emeritus Professor of Immunology, University of Cambridge, said:

“It is important to note that the authors do not claim causality between girls being exposed to infections in childhood and later on developing eating disorders in adolescence. Much more needs to be studied before causality can be claimed.

“Looking at the figures, the association is highest in the first three months after hospitalisation and therefore the study could have benefited from a control group who were hospitalised for other, unrelated reasons just to make sure that factors related to childhood hospitalisation are not responsible for the differences reported.”

‘Association of Exposure to Infections in Childhood With Risk of Eating Disorders in Adolescent Girls’ by Lauren Breithaup et al. was published in JAMA Psychiatry at 16:00 UK time on Wednesday 24th April.

Declared interests

None received. 

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