Teenage girls with clinical anxiety could be at a greater risk of developing eating disorders at a later point in their adolescence, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Bristol assessed almost 2,500 girls between the age of 13 and 18 and analysed the association between clinical anxiety disorder and fasting for weight-loss or to avoid weight gain.
The findings, published in the European Eating Disorders Review, show girls who met the criteria for having an anxiety disorder were twice as likely to fast regularly that those who did not have an anxiety disorder.
Researchers found older teenagers with anxiety were associated with fasting at a later point in their adolescence – which could in turn lead to developing eating disorders – but this was not the case for younger teenagers.
The researchers collected data from 2,406 participants in Bristol at three points during their lives; when aged 13 to 14 and when aged 15 to 16 – assessing for anxiety disorders – and then two years after these assessments, measuring fasting.
They found there was a ‘positive association’ between having anxiety at age 15-16 and then fasting at age 17-18, but there was not an association between participants with anxiety at age 13-14 and fasting at age 15-16.
Dr Caitlin Lloyd, senior research associate in public health at Bristol Medical School and lead author in the study, said: ‘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.
‘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.’
She added: ‘Increasing our understanding of disordered eating behaviours and eating disorders is a necessary step in 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.’