Objective: To examine the association between stage of sexual maturation and eating disorder symptoms in a community-based sample of adolescent girls.
Participants: All sixth- and seventh-grade girls (N = 971) enrolled in four northern California middle schools.
Main variables examined: Pubertal development measured using self-reported Tanner stage and body mass index (kg/m2). The section of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R Disorders (SCID) discussing bulimia nervosa was used to evaluate symptoms of bulimia nervosa.
Results: Girls manifesting eating disorder symptoms, while not significantly older than their peers without such symptoms, were more developmentally advanced as determined with Tanner self-staging. The odds ratio for the association between sexual maturity and symptoms was 1.8 (95% confidence interval, 1.2 to 2.8); ie, at each age, an increase in sexual maturity of a single point was associated with a 1.8-fold increase in the odds of presenting symptoms. The odds ratio for the association between body mass index (adjusted for sexual maturity) and symptoms was 1.02 (95% confidence interval, 1.0 to 1.05). There was no independent effect of age or of the interaction between age and the sexual maturity index.
Conclusions: These results suggest that (1) puberty may be a risk factor for the development of eating disorders, and (2) prevention efforts might best be directed at prepubertal and peripubertal adolescents.