Do eating disorders in parents predict eating disorders in children? Evidence from a Swedish cohort

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2015 Jul;132(1):51-9. doi: 10.1111/acps.12389. Epub 2015 Jan 9.


Objective: We investigated whether parental eating disorders (ED) predict ED in children, using a large multigeneration register-based sample.

Method: We used a subset of the Stockholm Youth Cohort born 1984-1995 and resident in Stockholm County in 2001-2007 (N = 286,232), The exposure was a diagnosed eating disorder in a parent; the outcome was any eating disorder diagnosis in their offspring, given by a specialist clinician, or inferred from an appointment at a specialist eating disorder clinic. A final study sample of 158,697 (55.4%) had data on these variables and confounding factors and contributed a total of 886,241 person years to the analysis.

Results: We found good evidence in support of the hypothesis that ED in either parent are independently associated with ED in their female children (HR 1.97 (95% CI: 1.17-3.33), P = 0.01) and that ED in mothers are independently associated with ED in their female children (HR 2.35 (95% CI: 1.39-3.97) P = 0.001). Numbers were too low to permit separate analysis of ED in parents and their male children.

Conclusion: Eating disorders in parents were associated with ED in children. This study adds to our knowledge about the intergenerational transmission of ED, which will help identify high-risk groups and brings about the possibility of targeted prevention.

Keywords: anorexia nervosa; bulimia nervosa; eating disorder not otherwise specified; eating disorders; intergenerational.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology
  • Child of Impaired Parents / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Sweden / epidemiology