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Psychopharmacol Bull. 1997;33(3):405-11.

The future of risk factor research in understanding the etiology of eating disorders.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 55455, USA.


This article explores whether particular risk factors are best seen as precursors or as symptoms. Psychological, cultural, family, developmental, and biological risk domains that may be important in the etiology of eating disorders are briefly reviewed. We describe a 4-year prospective study assessing a wide range of risk factors for development of eating disorders in a large school-based sample of adolescents. For subjects who were relatively asymptomatic, a personality or temperamental characteristic of negative affect/esteem measured at study entrance was the only significant predictor of later risk score for both girls and boys. The significant comorbidity demonstrated in a separate group that had high risk for eating disorders suggests that negative affectivity may be a vulnerability factor for overall psychopathology rather than a predisposition specifically for eating disorders. Following subjects through the young-adult years and later may further clarify the range of influences affecting disordered eating. Primary prevention and early intervention programs in the schools are also recommended.

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