Psychosocial correlates, outcome, and stability of abnormal adolescent eating behavior in community samples of young people

Int J Eat Disord. 2005 Mar;37(2):119-26. doi: 10.1002/eat.20077.


Objective: The current study investigated psychosocial correlates of abnormal adolescent eating behavior at three times during adolescence and young adulthood and its association with psychiatric diagnosis in young adulthood in a community sample.

Method: Sixty-four (10.5%) high-risk subjects (mean age 15 years) with abnormal eating behavior were identified at Time 1, another 252 (16.9%) were identified at Time 2 (mean age 16.2 years), and 164 (16.9%) were identified at Time 3 (mean age 19.7 years) and compared with three control groups matched for age and gender. Dependent measures included emotional and behavioral problems, life events, coping capacities, self-related cognition, social network, and family functions. Outcome was measured additionally by structured psychiatric interviews, and stability of abnormal eating behavior was studied in a longitudinal sample of 330 subjects.

Results: Few subjects showed more than one of five criteria of abnormal eating behavior. High-risk subjects shared a very similar pattern at all three times. They were characterized by higher scores for emotional and behavioral problems, more life events including more negative impact, less active coping, lower self-esteem, and less family cohesion. Among 10 major psychiatric disorders, only clinical eating disorders at Time 3 shared a significant association with abnormal eating disorder at the same time whereas high-risk status at Times 1 and 2 did not predict any psychiatric disorder at Time 3. Stability of abnormal eating behavior across time was very low. Stability of abnormal eating behavior across time was very low.

Discussion: Abnormal eating behavior in adolescence and young adulthood is clearly associated with various indicators of psychosocial maladaption. In adolescence, it does not significantly predict any psychiatric disorder including eating disorder in young adulthood and it is predominantly a transient feature.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / diagnosis
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Psychology
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Self Concept
  • Self-Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Treatment Outcome