When a family member suffers from bulimia or anorexia, a fairly important question that may cross that person’s mind is whether the same disorder will ever affect their children. While there are no solid reasons why a person may or may not have an eating disorder; research suggests that genetics may actually play a role in choosing those at risk.
What the research says – is that studies show that certain genetic factors are involved in deciding whether another family member may be at risk for developing an eating disorder, when a family member already has one (or has had one). For example:
1. It is estimated that 10% of all people with bulimia and anorexia have a family member who already suffers from one of the disorders.
2. Children are at a 10% higher risk of having an eating disorder when another family member already has it.
3. Genetic factors are responsible for 58% to 76% of all cases of anorexia.
4. About 6% of people with anorexia tend to have a sister with the same disorder.
5. The risk of having bulimia is four times higher when a parent in the same family has it.
6. When an identical twin has an eating disorder, the likelihood that the other twin has the same disorder increases dramatically.
The reasons behind these facts are:
(a) A variant of the serotonin receptor gene (influencing neurological processes such as anxiety, depression, mood and perception, etc.) is shared in families where a history of eating disorders is present.
(b) The same genetic factors that make a person vulnerable to personality disorders, substance abuse, and neurological processes mentioned earlier also make a person more vulnerable to eating disorders.
(vs) Children who grow up with family members who have negative attitudes towards food and eating in general are at a significantly higher risk of developing an eating disorder than children who grow up with family members who have a more positive attitude towards food and while eating.
Other risk factors for developing an eating disorder may include: low self-esteem, emotional disturbances (anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] etc.), perfectionist personalities, impulsive or obsessive personality traits (distinctive characteristics or qualities, especially of a personal nature), occupations where weight can affect performance (actors / actresses, dancers, gymnasts, models, etc.) , and where there is a history of sexual abuse.
Conclusion – While there is no 100% clear evidence that bulimia or anorexia is inherited, some studies indicate a strong link between the two. Where a family history of eating disorders exists; there is a strong possibility that other members of the same family may, at some point in their life, also suffer from it (more common at a younger age).