A longitudinal study of eating behaviours in childhood and later eating disorder behaviours and diagnoses

Moritz Herle, Bianca De Stavola, Christopher Hübel, Mohamed Abdulkadir, DIana Santos Ferreira, Ruth J.F. Loos, Rachel Bryant-Waugh, Cynthia M. Bulik, Nadia Micali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Background Eating behaviours in childhood are considered as risk factors for eating disorder behaviours and diagnoses in adolescence. However, few longitudinal studies have examined this association.Aims We investigated associations between childhood eating behaviours during the first ten years of life and eating disorder behaviours (binge eating, purging, fasting and excessive exercise) and diagnoses (anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, purging disorder and bulimia nervosa) at 16 years.Method Data on 4760 participants from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children were included. Longitudinal trajectories of parent-rated childhood eating behaviours (8 time points, 1.3-9 years) were derived by latent class growth analyses. Eating disorder diagnoses were derived from self-reported, parent-reported and objectively measured anthropometric data at age 16 years. We estimated associations between childhood eating behaviours and eating disorder behaviours and diagnoses, using multivariable logistic regression models.Results Childhood overeating was associated with increased risk of adolescent binge eating (risk difference, 7%; 95% CI 2 to 12) and binge eating disorder (risk difference, 1%; 95% CI 0.2 to 3). Persistent undereating was associated with higher anorexia nervosa risk in adolescent girls only (risk difference, 6%; 95% CI, 0 to 12). Persistent fussy eating was associated with greater anorexia nervosa risk (risk difference, 2%; 95% CI 0 to 4).Conclusions Our results suggest continuities of eating behaviours into eating disorders from early life to adolescence. It remains to be determined whether childhood eating behaviours are an early manifestation of a specific phenotype or whether the mechanisms underlying this continuity are more complex. Findings have the potential to inform preventative strategies for eating disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-119
Number of pages7
JournalBritish Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • binge eating disorder
  • bulimia nervosa
  • eating behaviour
  • epidemiology


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