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Psychol Med. 2008 Oct;38(10):1443-53. Epub 2007 Dec 10.

Toward an understanding of risk factors for anorexia nervosa: a case-control study.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, NY, NY 10032, USA.



Prospective, longitudinal studies of risk factors for anorexia nervosa (AN) are lacking and existing cross-sectional studies are generally narrow in focus and lack methodological rigor. Building on two studies that used the Oxford Risk Factor Interview (RFI) to establish time precedence and comprehensively assess potential risk correlates for AN, the present study advances this line of research and represents the first case-control study of risk factors for AN in the USA.


The RFI was used for retrospective assessment of a broad range of risk factors, while establishing time precedence. Using a case-control design, 50 women who met DSM-IV criteria for AN were compared to those with non-eating disorder DSM-IV psychiatric disorders (n=50) and those with no psychiatric disorder (n=50).


Women with psychiatric disorders reported higher rates of negative affectivity, maternal and paternal parenting problems, family discord, parental mood and substance disorder, and physical and sexual abuse than women with no psychiatric disorder. Women with AN specifically reported greater severity and significantly higher rates of negative affectivity, perfectionism and family discord, and higher parental demands than women with other psychiatric disorders. The role of weight and shape concerns was most salient in the year preceding onset of AN.


Convergent data identifying common risk factors as well as those more severe in the development of AN are emerging to inform longitudinal risk factor and prevention studies for this disorder.

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