The prevalence of eating disorders has prompted numerous studies to identify potential risk factors. These include genetics, environment, stress, and body image. Each factor has its own role to play. Eating disorders are highly stigmatized illnesses, making it important to understand all their facets. While they can be complex, a few observable signs can help identify individuals at risk.
Among all the risk factors, genetics has a significant role. Having a family member with an eating disorder increases the likelihood of developing one. However, not everyone who has a relative with an eating disorder will develop one. Genetics are influenced by both personality and socio-cultural factors. Moreover, people with a history of disordered eating have a higher sensitivity to weight-related teasing.
Besides genetics, other factors that contribute to an eating disorder include anxiety, depression, and traumatic experiences. Stressful life events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or a traumatic experience can have a powerful effect. Anxiety can also lead to overeating, an unhealthy coping mechanism. Likewise, a change in employment or a change in social status may trigger an eating disorder.
Environmental influences such as the media, a sport, or a cultural or artistic group can increase the likelihood of an eating disorder. In addition, a nurturing environment can prevent the onset of an eating disorder.
Aside from biological and social factors, the most important factor affecting an individual’s risk for an eating disorder is the individual’s ability to self-manage their emotions. This is a common challenge among young adults. They lack the tools and knowledge to do so effectively.
Many children become hyperfocused on their body image and weight. It is believed that unbalanced brain chemicals can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Similarly, traumatic events, such as sexual assault, can result in a spiral of psychiatric illness.
Some people with anorexia may be perfectionists. Parents who are overprotective are risk factors for disordered eating. Other parents might encourage their child to engage in excessive dieting or weight loss.
Body image factors are also highly likely to contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Teenage girls are more susceptible than males. Nonetheless, both genders can suffer from disordered eating.
Eating disorders can be extremely difficult to treat. They are usually sporadic. Most people who have anorexia are young women. Generally, they have a close but problematic relationship with their parents. If they are not treated early, an eating disorder can persist into adulthood.
The list of pre-identified causes of an eating disorder was created through a literature review and a manual generation process. This allowed for a wider scope and more thorough explanation of eating disorders.
In addition to the most common causes, participants listed a number of lesser-known factors. These included social and psychological problems, such as trauma, low self-esteem, and low self-efficacy. One-fourth of the participants who did not have an eating disorder acknowledged these factors.
Regardless of the specific causes, it is important to recognize that an eating disorder is a very serious issue that requires addressing. Having accurate information can reduce the stigma attached to these disorders, and encourage those who may be experiencing them to seek help sooner.