Who is really at risk? Identifying risk factors for subthreshold and full syndrome eating disorders in a high-risk sample

Psychol Med. 2011 Sep;41(9):1939-49. doi: 10.1017/S0033291710002631. Epub 2011 Jan 31.


Background: Numerous longitudinal studies have identified risk factors for the onset of most eating disorders (EDs). Identifying women at highest risk within a high-risk sample would allow for focusing of preventive resources and also suggests different etiologies.

Method: A longitudinal cohort study over 3 years in a high-risk sample of 236 college-age women randomized to the control group of a prevention trial for EDs. Potential risk factors and interactions between risk factors were assessed using the methods developed previously. Main outcome measures were time to onset of a subthreshold or full ED.

Results: At the 3-year follow-up, 11.2% of participants had developed a full or partial ED. Seven of 88 potential risk factors could be classified as independent risk factors, seven as proxies, and two as overlapping factors. Critical comments about eating from teacher/coach/siblings and a history of depression were the most potent risk factors. The incidence for participants with either or both of these risk factors was 34.8% (16/46) compared to 4.2% (6/144) for participants without these risk factors, with a sensitivity of 0.75 and a specificity of 0.82.

Conclusions: Targeting preventive interventions at women with high weight and shape concerns, a history of critical comments about eating weight and shape, and a history of depression may reduce the risk for EDs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Image
  • Body Weight
  • California / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Comorbidity
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Young Adult