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Dental Hygiene Newswire

News and research for Ontario dental hygienists

Risk factors for eating disorders

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions associated with significant psychological and physical impairment. Individuals with eating disorders are at greater risk of suicidality, mortality, and poorer quality of life compared to both the general population and individuals with other mental health conditions.

Eating disorders are often severe and chronic, particularly if not promptly addressed. The average delay between the onset of eating disorder symptoms and seeking treatment is five years. A factor contributing to this delay is health professionals’ lack of awareness of indicators of disordered eating behaviours, meaning eating disorders often go unrecognized by treating clinicians.

It is crucial to understand the risk factors and their potential contribution to the onset of an eating disorder for early identification of high-risk groups and to provide effective screening and prevention programs and targeted interventions. This rapid review summarized the risk factors associated with eating disorders.

A total of 284 studies were included. The findings were grouped into nine main risk factor categories, including:

  • Genetics;
  • Gastrointestinal microbiota and autoimmune reactions;
  • Childhood and early adolescent exposures;
  • Personality traits and comorbid mental health conditions;
  • Gender;
  • Socio-economic status;
  • Ethnic minority;
  • Body image and social influence; and
  • Elite sports.

The study found substantial research supports the role of inherited genetic risk in eating disorder development, with biological risk factors, such as the role of gut microbiota in appetite dysregulation, an area of emerging evidence. Abuse, trauma, and childhood obesity are strongly linked to eating disorders. Comorbidities between eating disorders and mental health conditions, including personality and mood disorders, increase the severity of eating disorder symptomatology. Higher education attainment, body image-related factors, and use of appearance-focused social media are also associated with increased risk of eating disorder symptoms.

In conclusion, eating disorders are associated with multiple risk factors. These findings can be used to determine which risk factors are appropriate to target prevention, early intervention, and/or treatment efforts. Further research is required to better understand the relationship between risk factors to enhance interventions and ultimately improve outcomes for individuals with eating disorders.

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