Anorexia nervosa and heredity

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: June 1st, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Advertisers and celebrities are often blamed for perpetuating the myth that women aren’t attractive unless they’re thin.

Critics say it’s irresponsible, when thousands of young women suffer from anorexia nervosa. A form of self-starvation, anorexia has the highest fatality rate of any mental disorder.

But while popular culture may glamorize anorexia, what really causes it?

A study published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that heredity plays a major role, but it’s not alone.

Using a Swedish database that tracks health information on twins, researchers determined that genetics account for sixty percent of the influences causing anorexia.

The remainder was blamed on environmental factors, and they’re poorly understood.

The study also found that the percentage of women diagnosed with anorexia is increasing.

Among women born before 1945, anorexia struck sixty-five out of every thousand. But for women born between 1945 and 1958, that figure more than doubled.

Researchers cautioned that the increase may be the result of better detection, not an actual change in the incidence of anorexia. Eating disorders weren’t widely recognized until the late twentieth century.

Then again, if anorexia really is becoming more common, perhaps the influence of popular culture deserves closer scrutiny.

Environmental factors play a forty-percent role in causing anorexia, so maybe those scary-skinny celebs really do cause some women to follow their example.

That’s not a pleasant thought. But perhaps if science finds a connection, more people will think about the risk behind that thin-is-in mentality.