Childhood obsessive-compulsive personality traits in adult women with eating disorders: defining a broader eating disorder phenotype

Am J Psychiatry. 2003 Feb;160(2):242-7. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.160.2.242.


Objective: The authors retrospectively examined a spectrum of childhood traits that reflect obsessive-compulsive personality in adult women with eating disorders and assessed the predictive value of the traits for the development of eating disorders.

Method: In a case-control design, 44 women with anorexia nervosa, 28 women with bulimia nervosa, and 28 healthy female comparison subjects were assessed with an interview instrument that asked them to recall whether they had experienced various types of childhood behavior suggesting traits associated with obsessive-compulsive personality. The subjects also completed a self-report inventory of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms.

Results: Childhood obsessive-compulsive personality traits showed a high predictive value for development of eating disorders, with the estimated odds ratio for eating disorders increasing by a factor of 6.9 for every additional trait present. Subjects with eating disorders who reported perfectionism and rigidity in childhood had significantly higher rates of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and OCD comorbidity later in life, compared with eating disorder subjects who did not report those traits.

Conclusions: Childhood traits reflecting obsessive-compulsive personality appear to be important risk factors for the development of eating disorders and may represent markers of a broader phenotype for a specific subgroup of patients with anorexia nervosa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Anorexia Nervosa / diagnosis
  • Anorexia Nervosa / epidemiology
  • Anorexia Nervosa / genetics
  • Bulimia / diagnosis
  • Bulimia / epidemiology
  • Bulimia / genetics
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Compulsive Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Compulsive Personality Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • London / epidemiology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Personality Inventory
  • Phenotype
  • Prevalence
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors