Network analysis of pediatric eating disorder symptoms in a treatment-seeking, transdiagnostic sample

J Abnorm Psychol. 2018 Feb;127(2):251-264. doi: 10.1037/abn0000327.


Classifying eating disorders in youth is challenging in light of developmental considerations and high rates of diagnostic migration. Understanding the transactional relationships among eating disorder symptoms, both across the transdiagnostic spectrum and within specific diagnostic categories, may clarify which core eating disorder symptoms contribute to, and maintain, eating-related psychopathology in youth. We utilized network analysis to investigate interrelationships among eating disorder symptoms in 636 treatment-seeking children and adolescents (90.3% female) ages 6-18 years (M age = 15.4 ± 2.2). An undirected, weighted network of eating disorder symptoms was created using behavioral and attitudinal items from the Eating Disorder Examination. Across diagnostic groups, symptoms reflecting appearance-related concerns (e.g., dissatisfaction with shape and weight) and dietary restraint (e.g., a desire to have an empty stomach) were most strongly associated with other eating disorder symptoms in the network. Binge eating and compensatory behaviors (e.g., self-induced vomiting) were strongly connected to one another but not to other symptoms in the network. Network connectivity was similar across anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and otherwise specified feeding or eating disorder subgroups. Among treatment-seeking children and adolescents, dietary restraint and shape- and weight-related concerns appear to play key roles in the psychopathology of eating disorders, supporting cognitive-behavioral theories of onset and maintenance. Similarities across diagnostic categories provide support for a transdiagnostic classification scheme. Clinical interventions should seek to disrupt these symptoms early in treatment to achieve maximal outcomes. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Image
  • Child
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / classification*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Numerical Analysis, Computer-Assisted