A study that started in 1985 followed some 50 people who had become anorexic in their teens. It shows that 30 years later, the majority were healthy but some had persistent eating disorders. The study, published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, was carried out at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.
Study started in 1985 followed 50-some people who were anorexic in their teens
To lose weight, people with anorexia nervosa try to starve themselves, despite already weighing less than what is good for them. Of children and adolescents in Sweden, some 1% of girls and 0.1% of boys become anorexic. Treatment consists above all of psychotherapy, aimed at changing the victims’ eating behavior and helping them cope with their problematic emotions.
Study initiated in Gothenburg in 1985
The study was initiated in Gothenburg in 1985. Every child in the eighth grade of compulsory school (born 1970) was screened for anorexia nervosa. As a result, 24 adolescents with the disease were found and given the opportunity of inclusion in the study. A further 27 adolescents with anorexia born in the early 1970s, who had attracted the attention of the school health services, were added. Of the resulting total, 48 were women and 3 men. The study was supplemented with an equal number of matched healthy controls, bringing the total number of subjects to 102.
Thirty years after the study
Thirty years after the study began, the researchers contacted the anorexic participants and the healthy controls again. All but four were included in the follow-up.
“Since the study’s partly population-based and includes only people who developed anorexia in their teens, we thought initially that our study participants should be doing better than people in clinical long-term follow-ups, in which the participants were recruited through the care services. In our study we see no deaths, which unfortunately occur in clinical studies. But as for full recovery from eating disorders, the outcome is the same as in other long-term studies. In line with other studies, 30 of the 47 respondents in the follow-up part of the study have fully recovered,” said Elisabet Wentz, Professor at Sahlgrenska Academy, one of the researchers behind the study.
One key purpose of the study
One key purpose of the study was to identify factors capable of predicting prospects for adolescents who succumb to anorexia nervosa. The study indicates that age is one such factor: teenagers who were slightly older at onset had a better chance of regaining their health.
Here is what other studies have shown
Other studies have shown that perfectionist personality traits are a risk factor for developing anorexia; but in this study, perfectionism before the onset proved to be a factor that enhanced recovery prospects.
The two faces of perfectionism
“Perfectionism has two faces, and seems able to serve both harmful and beneficial purposes when it comes to teenage anorexia. Perhaps the fact is that the perfectionism that drove the disease was transformed during the recovery of health, becoming a driver for not falling ill again,” Wentz says.
In the preceding follow-up of the study, 18 years after the start, 6 of the 51 participants had eating disorders. Twelve years later, the proportion with disorders had risen, the researchers were astonished to find.
“Our expectation was that 30 years after first falling ill, the proportion with eating disorders would show a continued decline. But instead, we see a small increase,” Wentz states.
From University of Gothenburg
Dobrescu, S.R. et al. (2019) Anorexia nervosa: 30-year outcome. The British Journal of Psychiatry. doi.org/10.1192/bjp.2019.113.
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, which has been in print since 2005, and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.