Teenage girls who experience clinical levels of anxiety could be at greater risk of eating disorders, according to a study published on Wednesday, which may help improve the outcomes of prevention efforts. The researchers, including those from the University of Bristol in the UK, looked at the pathology of anxiety disorder, and the severe levels of fasting in 2,406 teenage girls part of Bristol's Children of the 90s study.
The 90s study, they said, assessed children born in the former county of Avon in the UK during 1991 and 1992.
The findings of the current study, published in the journal European Eating Disorders Review, revealed that the risk of regular fasting was twice greater in girls who had anxiety disorder two years ago than those who did not have the disorder.
According to the researchers, this relationship was true even after statistical adjustment for other factors known to increase risk of disordered eating behaviour.
"The findings confirm what we often see in the clinic, which is that anxiety and restrictive eating fuel each other, and highlight how important it is to treat both anxiety and eating behaviours," said study co-author Nadia Micali from the University College London in the UK.
They said fasting was predictive of the development of the eating disorder anorexia nervosa in the girls, supporting the possibility that anxiety increases risk of such syndromes.
"While we have known there is a link between anxiety disorders and anorexia nervosa for some time, these new findings support anxiety preceding the onset of severe restrictive eating, and as such may help inform the identification of individuals at greater risk of eating disorders," said study co-author Caitlin Lloyd from the University of Bristol.
The researchers cautioned that the study did not indicate any causal links between anxiety and eating disorders, but only revealed an association.
"Our findings did not examine for causal links so it is important that future studies look at the reasons behind the associations we have found. Similar work should also include young men, to determine whether the association holds in this population too," Lloyd explained.
He said an more understanding of disordered eating behaviours is necessary for improving outcomes of prevention efforts.
"This is particularly important given the high burden of eating disorders, and their associated risks, with anorexia having one of the highest mortality rates of all psychiatric disorders," Lloyd said.