Objective Despite a growing literature on potential risk factors for eating disorders, longitudinal research starting before adolescence is scarce, and little is known about risk factors in males. We investigated risk factors in preadolescent boys and girls for the development of eating pathology in adolescence and young adulthood.
Method This study is part of TRAILS (TRacking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey), a Dutch population-based cohort study (N = 2,229) from preadolescence into adulthood. Potential risk factors were measured at age 11, based on self-report, reports of one of the parents, and records of the Preventive Child Healthcare. Variables included sociodemographic variables, pregnancy and perinatal factors, eating- and weight-related factors, psychological functioning, stressful experiences and family factors. At age 19, two-stage screening including interviews by eating disorder experts was used to examine the prevalence of eating disorders. At age 22 and 26, eating pathology was assessed by the Eating Disorder Diagnostic Scale.
Results Preadolescent anxious distress and high weight were associated with eating pathology in adolescence and young adulthood in both boys and girls. Overeating in preadolescence was found to be a prodromal symptom of eating disorders during late adolescence. No evidence was found for sex-specific risk factors.
Discussion Anxious preadolescents with high weight are at increased risk for the development of eating pathology later on. Clinicians should be aware of eating disorder symptoms - like overeating - in this high-risk group of children, and could consider an early intervention to prevent the development of full-blown eating disorders.