Associations of breastfeeding with bulimic behaviors and eating disorders among adolescents

Int J Eat Disord. 2013 Dec;46(8):834-40. doi: 10.1002/eat.22165. Epub 2013 Aug 7.


Purpose: To use the lifecourse framework to examine the association between duration of breastfeeding and risk of developing bulimic behaviors or a diagnosed eating disorder.

Method: Questionnaires were sent every 12-24 months between 1996 and 2005 to 6,436 females and 5,756 males in the Growing Up Today Study, who were 9-14 years at baseline. Duration of breastfeeding was reported by the participants' mothers in 1997. We used generalized estimating equations to estimate the association of breastfeeding with purging, binge eating, engaging in bulimic behaviors, and having a diagnosed eating disorder.

Results: Compared to girls who were breastfed for more than 9 months, those who were breastfed for less than 4 months did not have a significantly different prevalence of purging, binge eating, bulimic behaviors, and self-reported history of diagnosed eating disorders. Adjusting for gestational age/birthweight, age, age at menarche, maternal history of an eating disorder, and maternal body mass index, short duration of breastfeeding was not associated with any outcome among the girls [adjusted odds ratios (AOR) ranged from 0.8 to 1.1]. Among the boys, the results showed no significant associations between duration of breastfeeding and purging, binge eating, and self-reported history of diagnosed eating disorder. However, there was a suggestion that boys who had been breastfed for less than 4 months were at a higher risk of engaging in bulimic behaviors [AOR: 1.5, 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.0-2.3].

Discussion: No association was found between duration of breastfeeding and risk of developing bulimic behaviors or a diagnosed eating disorder among girls or boys with the one exception of longer duration of breastfeeding associated with fewer bulimic behaviors in boys. Although there are many benefits to breastfeeding, our data suggest that breastfeeding does not offer any protection against binge eating or purging, nor does it present harmful effects.

Keywords: binge eating; breastfeeding; bulimic behaviors; disordered weight control behaviors; eating disorders; lifecourse approach; purging.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Body Mass Index
  • Breast Feeding / psychology*
  • Breast Feeding / statistics & numerical data
  • Bulimia Nervosa / diagnosis*
  • Bulimia Nervosa / epidemiology
  • Bulimia Nervosa / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / diagnosis
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior* / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors