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Qual Life Res. 2005 Apr;14(3):705-17.

Eating disorders and emotional and physical well-being: associations between student self-reports of eating disorders and quality of life as measured by the SF-36.

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  • 1Department of Public Health, University of Oxford, Old Road Campus, Headington, Oxford, OX3 7LF, United Kingdom.



To assess health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in subjects with eating disorders in terms of eating disorder type and in relation to self-reports of longstanding illness, depression and self-harming behaviours.


Data on eating disorder history, SF-36 health status, longstanding illness, and self-reported frequencies of depression, self-harming behaviour, and suicidal thoughts or acts were collected during 1996 as part of a UK postal survey of students' health. Completed questionnaires were returned by 1439 of 3750 students (response rate 42%).


Eighty-three respondents (5.8%; 8.9% of females) reported a probable eating disorder history: 54 (3.8%) bulimia nervosa, 22 (1.6%) binge eating disorder, and 7 (0.5%) anorexia nervosa. Eating disorder subjects reported more impairment in SF-36 emotional than physical well-being, with significantly lower mental (p < 0.001) but not physical (p = 0.21) component summary scores. This was most evident in bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder subjects. Anorexia nervosa subjects reported fewer SF-36 emotional limitations although they were significantly more likely to report depression, self-harming behaviour, and suicidal ideation.


An eating disorder history is accompanied by HRQoL impairment primarily in emotional well-being. Anorexia nervosa subjects perceive fewer limitations than subjects with other eating disorders. While this is consistent with previous reports of better SF-36 emotional well-being in those with restrictive eating behaviours, it may also suggest that the SF-36 is insensitive to emotional distress in anorexia nervosa.

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