September 21, 2009 / 5:35 AM / 9 years ago

Girls from educated families more at risk of eating disorders

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Girls from well educated families who do well at school appear to be more at risk of developing an eating disorder, maybe because they feel more pressure to succeed, according to Swedish researchers.

Middle school students, who are North Korean defectors, react as they take part in a history class at the Hangyeore middle and high school in Anseong, about 80 km (50 miles) south of Seoul, November 21, 2008. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

A study which followed more than 13,000 women born in Sweden between 1952 and 1989 found that as parents’ or grandmothers’ education increased, so did girls’ risk of being hospitalized for anorexia or another eating disorder.

The risk also climbed in tandem with the girls’ own grades in high school, the researchers from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“It’s possible that these girls feel more pressure from family to succeed — which for some could translate into an obsession with controlling their eating and body weight,” the researchers said in a statement.

They added that higher-achieving girls may also be more likely to have certain personality traits, such as perfectionism, that make them relatively more vulnerable to eating disorders.

Such demands likely play an “important role” in eating disorder development, researcher Jennie Ahren-Moonga told Reuters Health.

“This is even more relevant when combined with low self- esteem, as the feeling of not being able to live up to expectations plays a crucial role in both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa,” she said.

The vast majority of girls in the study were never treated for an eating disorder, regardless of family education and grades with only 55 out of 13,376 hospitalized during the study period.

The researchers said the findings did not prove that greater education and school achievement lead to eating disorders but suggest that girls from families with higher academic achievement were at relatively greater risk which could help prevent the onset of such problems.

Girls whose parents went to college had about twice the risk of being treated for an eating disorder as those whose parents had only an elementary-school education.

The risk was six times higher among girls whose maternal grandmothers had a college education, compared with those whose grandmothers went only to elementary school.

Similarly, girls with the highest grades at age 15 had twice the risk of hospitalization as girls with the lowest grades.

Ahren-Moonga said parents should be aware of the potential signs of an eating disorder, such as when a child begins to skip meals, routinely goes to the bathroom after a meal or loses weight for no clear reason.

Reporting by Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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