Family connections feed eating disorders research

February 22, 2000

Washington, DC -- For the millions of Americans who experience eating disorders, new research published in the March 2000 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry provides increased understanding of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, and offers a greater awareness of the family and hereditary links of the disorders.

In studies of first-degree relatives of persons with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Pittsburgh found evidence that both disorders have a familial link or cross-transmission. The studies showed that anorexia nervosa commonly occurred in female relatives of those suffering an eating disorder, but rarely among family members of persons with similar characteristics who have never suffered an eating disorder. Although bulimia nervosa occurred more frequently than anorexia among the relatives of never-ill subjects, it too occurred at a higher rate among families of those with the illnesses. This cross-transmission suggests a common or shared familial predisposition to the disorders and additional observation indicates the predisposition or "risk" could extend to other, milder disorders. (1.)

In a study undertaken at Virginia Commonwealth University, researchers looked at the hereditary connection between and co-occurrence of anorexia nervosa and major depression among female twins. Although the study was limited to a small number of affected twins, the results showed that anorexia nervosa was estimated to have an inherited risk factor of 58%. Researchers cautioned that the studies do not rule out the contribution of a shared environment, but do suggest that genetic factors significantly influence the risk for anorexia nervosa and substantially contribute to the co-occurrence between anorexia nervosa and major depression. (2.)
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1. ["Controlled Family Study of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa: Evidence of Shared Liability and Transmission of Partial Syndromes," by Michael Strober, et. al., p. 393] APAfastFAX#6915

2.["Anorexia Nervosa and Major Depression: Shared Genetic And Environmental Risk Facts," by Tracey D. Wade, et. al.] APAfastFAX #6916

Copies of these articles are available in their entirety by calling APAfastFAX at 888-357-7924.

The American Psychiatric Association is a national medical specialty society, founded in 1844, whose 40,000 physician members specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional illnesses and substance use disorders.

American Psychiatric Association

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