Today’s article summary is on “Childhood psychopathology in children of women with eating disorders: understanding risk mechanisms” by Micali et al (2013, The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry). This topic is of particular interest to me because I want to have children someday. I really want to fight my eating disorder so that my future children can have a better chance at health an happiness. Also, my older sister, who still has active eating disorder behaviors, has two children and is currently pregnant with her third, and I am concerned about the health and well-being of her children. Finally, quite a few of the other eating disorder patients who were in treatment with me had parents with eating disorders.
Intro: Disordered eating in mothers is related to disordered eating in adolescents, but few studies have looked at other psychopathological consequences of maternal eating disorders (EDs). This study claims to be the first to look at the whole range of psychopathology (emotional and behavioral symptoms) in children of women with EDs.
Methods: Sample size of 8,622 women (193 with anorexia; 158 with bulimia; and 81 with both anorexia and bulimia, based on self-report) and their children from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Children were assessed at 3.5 years of age with the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), which evaluates emotional and conduct problems, inattention/hyperactivity, and prosocial behavior. The authors also measured anxiety, depression and ED symptoms in the pregnant women.
Results: Children of anorexic mothers (boys and girls) and male children with bulimic mothers were more likely to have emotional problems. Children of bulimic mothers were more likely to have conduct problems. Girls with anorexic mothers had more emotional, conduct, and hyperactivity problems than normal controls, while those with bulimic mothers had more hyperactivity/inattention problems. Boys with anorexic mothers had more emotional problems, while boys of bulimic mothers had more emotional and conduct problems.
Discussion: Children of ED mothers had 2-fold higher odds of psychopathology (emotional, conduct, and hyperactivity) by 3.5 years of age. Boys with bulimic mothers are more susceptible to the effects of active ED behaviors during pregnancy, while boys and girls of anorexic mothers are more likely to have emotional symptoms. The strengths of this include its large sample size and prospective design (retrospective designs are subject to more bias). However, childhood psychopathology was reported by the parents and could have been biased. For example, women with EDs are reported to be more likely to state their children have problems. Treating anxiety and depression in ED mothers during pregnancy may help decrease some of the psychopathology effects on their children.