Associations between parental socioeconomic-, family-, and sibling status and risk of eating disorders in offspring in a Danish national female cohort

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  • Koch, Susanne Vinkel
  • Janne Tidselbak Larsen
  • Kerstin J. Plessen
  • Laura M. Thornton
  • Cynthia M. Bulik
  • Liselotte Vogdrup Petersen

Objective: Studies on parental socioeconomic status (SES) and family risk factors for eating disorders (EDs) have yielded inconsistent results; however, several studies have identified high parental educational attainment as a risk factor. The aim was to evaluate associations of parental SES and family composition with anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS) in the offspring, adjusting for parental age and parental mental health. Methods: The cohort included women born in Denmark between January 1, 1989 and December 31, 2010, derived from Danish national registers. Each person was followed from their sixth birthday until onset of the disorder of interest or to December 31, 2016. Exposure variables were: childhood SES, defined as individually evaluated parental level of income, occupation, and education; sibling status; and family composition. Outcomes were: AN, BN, EDNOS, and major depressive disorder (MDD), included as a psychiatric comparison disorder. Risks were estimated using Cox proportional hazards. Results: High parental SES was associated with increased risk of especially AN, and less so BN and EDNOS, in offspring. In comparison, low SES was associated with a higher risk of MDD. No differences between maternal or paternal socioeconomic risk factors were found. Family composition and sibling status showed limited influence on ED risk. Discussion: SES shows opposite associations with AN than MDD, whereas associations with BN and EDNOS are intermediate. The socioeconomic backdrop of AN differs markedly from that reported in other psychiatric disorders. Whether that is due to genetic and/or environmental factors remains unknown. Public Significance statement: Parental socioeconomic background (SES) may influence eating disorders risk in offspring somewhat differently than other psychiatric disorders. In Denmark, higher parental SES was associated with increased risk of, particularly, anorexia nervosa (AN). Importantly AN does strike across the SES spectrum. We must ensure that individuals of all backgrounds have equal access to care and are equally likely to be detected and treated appropriately for eating disorders.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)1130-1142
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. International Journal of Eating Disorders published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.

    Research areas

  • anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, eating disorder not otherwise specified, epidemiology, family composition, maternal socioeconomic status, paternal socioeconomic status, sibling status

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