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J Psychiatr Res. 2011 May;45(5):691-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2010.10.003. Epub 2010 Oct 24.

Impact of broadening definitions of anorexia nervosa on sample characteristics.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB #7160, 101 Manning Drive, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7160, USA.


Practical limitations and sample size considerations often lead to broadening of diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa (AN) in research. The current study sought to elucidate the effects of this practice on resultant sample characteristics in terms of eating disorder behaviors, psychiatric comorbidities, temperament and personality characteristics, and heritability point estimates. Three definitions of AN were created: meeting all Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV) criteria for AN (AN-DSM-IV), meeting all DSM-IV criteria except criterion D, amenorrhea, (AN-noD), and broadening DSM-IV AN criteria by allowing a higher body mass index value, eliminating criterion D, and allowing less stringent body weight concerns (AN-Broad). Using data from the Swedish Twin Registry, 473 women fit one of the three definitions of AN. Women with AN-DSM-IV reported significantly more eating disorder behaviors than women with AN-Broad. Women with AN-noD reported more comorbid psychiatric disorders than women with AN-DSM-IV and AN-Broad. Temperament and personality characteristics did not differ across the three groups. Heritability point estimates decreased as AN definition broadened. Broadening the diagnostic criteria for AN results in an increased number of individuals available for participation in research studies. However, broader criteria for AN yield a more heterogeneous sample with regard to eating disorder symptoms and psychiatric comorbidity than a sample defined by narrower criteria.

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