Diagnostic criteria for eating disorders (ED) remain largely based on clinical presentations, but do not capture the full range of behaviours in the population. We aimed to derive an empirically based ED behaviour classification using behavioural and body mass index (BMI) indicators at three time-points in adolescence, and to validate classes investigating prospective associations with adverse outcomes. Adolescents from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) provided data on ED at age 14 (n = 6615), 16 (n = 5888), and 18 years (n = 5100), and had weight and height measured. Psychological and behavioural outcomes were assessed at 15.5/16 and 17.5/18 years. We fit gender- and age-stratified latent class models, and employed logistic regression to investigate associations between classes and later outcomes. One asymptomatic and two symptomatic (largely representing higher and lower frequency ED behaviours) classes were observed at each time-point, although their relative prevalence varied by age and gender. The majority of girls in symptomatic classes remained symptomatic at subsequent assessments. Girls in symptomatic classes had higher odds of subsequent anxiety and depressive disorders, binge drinking, drug use, and deliberate self-harm. Data analyses were underpowered amongst boys. The presence of two symptomatic classes (characterised by different ED behaviour frequency) and their prospective association with adverse outcomes suggest a need to refine diagnostic thresholds based on empirical data. Despite some instability of classes, particularly in mid-adolescence, evidence that half of girls in symptomatic classes remained symptomatic suggests persistence of ED behaviours in adolescence, and highlights a need for early identification to reduce chronicity.
- Eating disorders
- Latent class