Childhood psychopathology in children of women with eating disorders

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2016 Oct;134(4):295-304. doi: 10.1111/acps.12616. Epub 2016 Jul 10.


Objective: We aimed to investigate the effect of maternal eating disorders (ED) on childhood psychopathology, early delays in cognitive, motor and language development, mother and child relationship, and child temperament in a community-based cohort: the Danish National Birth Cohort (DNBC).

Method: Data were obtained prospectively on 48 403 children at 18 months and 46 156 children at 7 years. Data on cognitive, motor and language development, temperament and attachment were obtained at 18 months; data on child psychopathology were obtained at 7 years of age, using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Children of mothers with lifetime diagnosis of anorexia nervosa (AN, n = 931), lifetime diagnosis of bulimia nervosa (BN, n = 906) and both (AN & BN = 360) were compared to children of mothers without an ED (n = 46 206).

Results: Girls of women with lifetime AN had higher odds of having emotional problems, and girls of women with lifetime BN of having conduct problems compared with children of healthy women. Boys of women with lifetime AN had higher odds of total, emotional and conduct problems; boys of women with lifetime BN had higher odds of total, conduct, hyperactivity and peer difficulties compared to children of women without an ED. Boys of women with lifetime AN and BN had higher odds of total, emotional and peer problems compared to children of healthy women.

Conclusion: Maternal ED is associated with childhood psychopathology in both boys and girls. Boys seemed at higher risk for psychopathology in this sample. Associations between emotional disorders across genders in children of mothers with lifetime AN, and hyperactivity and peer difficulties in boys of mothers with lifetime BN confirm and extend previous findings and point to possible shared risk between ED and other psychopathology.

Keywords: Danish National Birth Cohort; Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire; children; eating disorders; psychopathology; temperament.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anorexia Nervosa / epidemiology*
  • Bulimia Nervosa / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / etiology
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sex Characteristics