The developmental role of metabolism, appetite and growth in eating disorders: exploring novel longitudinal risk pathways

  • Bryant-waugh, Rachel R. (CoPI)
  • Lawlor, Debbie D. (CoPI)
  • Santos Ferreira, Diana Lucia D.L. (CoPI)
  • Bulik, Cynthia M C.M. (CoPI)
  • Micali, Nadia (PI)
  • De Stavola, Bianca B. (CoPI)
  • Loos, Ruth R. (CoPI)

Project Details


The Eating Disorders (full and partial syndrome anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder) are life-threatening illnesses that start in adolescence and affect between one and two in ten adolescents and young adults. There is a lack in our understanding of why eating disorders develop, which affects our ability to develop good treatments and adequately prevent eating disorders. This project builds on our preliminary data showing that metabolism and growth might play a role in the development of eating disorders; and aims to understand if metabolic function, appetite and growth factors precede onset of eating disorders. We also aim to explore whether these factors might be related to individuals' genetic make up, using novel methodologies and based on novel genetic findings. This study will be based on data from the Avon Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), and well-known and unique longitudinal study based in the UK. This study will be fundamental in providing us with an understanding of novel risk mechanisms for adolescent and young adult eating disorders that can be further investigated in larger and more detailed studies following this project.

Technical Summary

This study builds on novel preliminary data [from prospective data and genetic studies], suggesting that metabolism and growth might have a yet unexplored role in the development of eating disorders. We will use data prospectively collected from the Avon longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC); a longitudinal birth cohort of ~13,000 children enrolled before birth and followed up to age 25. We will use data collected on metabolism, anthropometry and eating throughout childhood, and data on eating disorders we collected [at 3 timepoints in adolescence] and we are currently collecting at age 24. We will test our hypotheses that metabolic profiles, and eating patterns in childhood differentially predict full and sub-threshold eating disorders in adolescence and young adulthood using longitudinal regression models. We will then explore: 1. whether genetic risk scores for Anorexia Nervosa and high BMI are associated with distinct metabolic profiles in mid childhood, growth throughout childhood and childhood under-eating, AN and AN behaviours in adolescence and young adulthood; 2. whether a genetic risk score for high BMI is associated with distinct metabolic profiles in mid childhood, growth throughout childhood, childhood over-eating and loss of control eating, and binge eating and/or purging behaviours and disorders. This project will be foundational in: 1. being the first to study metabolic and appetitive risk factors for eating disorders prospectively, whilst also exploring their underlying genetic structure; 2. leading to new insights into the pathophysiology of eating disorders; 3. helping clarify risk pathways that can then be integrated into a risk model to be tested in larger and more detailed clinical, register-based and population-based studies.

Effective start/end date15/09/1731/10/19


  • Medical Research Council: $277,689.00


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