April 16, 2020

Add Health data used to study eating disorder behaviors in adolescence and adulthood

hands wrapped in tailor measure tape covering face of young depressed and worried girl suffering anorexia or bulimia nutrition disorder

Add Health collected information on nutrition, eating habits and weight perception during the Wave I interview when respondents were in middle and high school. These questions were repeated during four waves of data collection, allowing researchers to explore pathways involving eating disorders. Four Add Health based studies published in 2019 focus on mechanisms of eating disorders that can inform programs and interventions.

Fergus, Copp, Tabler, & Nagata evaluated the association between eating disorders and sexual risk in young women – specifically sexually active, unmarried women. Results shows that young women with eating disorders have an increased number of new sexual partners and unprotected sex when compared to non-eating disordered peers. However, there was not an association with STI. These results may inform future screening and clinical management.

Hazzard, Bauer, Mukherjee, Miller, & Sonneville investigated the associations between types of childhood maltreatment and eating disorder symptoms in young adulthood. Researchers found that different eating disorder behaviors were associated with different categories of maltreatment. For example, participants labeled as “multi-type maltreatment” were more likely to report binge eating and fasting. Authors advocate for accurately developing childhood maltreatment profiles in order to identify high-risk groups for eating disorders.

Nagata, Braudt, Domingue, Bibbins-Domingo, Garber, Griffiths, & Murray used the polygenic score (PGS) for BMI to assess the genetic risk for BMI and weight control behaviors in young adults.  Their study found that actual BMI mediated the relationship between BMI genetic risk and weight loss behaviors. Though this study did not specifically focus on eating disorders, their work may provide some insight for clinical interventions to prevent unhealthy weight loss behaviors.

Arduini, Iorio, & Patacchini explored whether the development of eating disorders are influenced by peers’ body size. Their study showed that teenage girls with thinner female friends have misperceptions of their own weight. The authors comment how these results can influence eating disorder programs and anti-obesity messages.


Fergus, K., Copp, H., Tabler, J.l and Nagata, J. (2019) Eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors among  women: Association with sexual risk. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 52(11).

Hazzard, V., Bauer, K., Mukherjee, B., Miller, A., and Sonneville, K. (2019) Associations between childhood maltreatment latent classes and eating disorder symptoms in a nationally representative sample of young adults in the United States. Child Abuse and Neglect, 98.

Nagata, H., Braudt, D., Domingue, B., Bibbins-Domingo, K., Garber, A., Griffiths, S., and Murray, S. (2019) Genetic risk, body mass index, and weight control behaviors: unlocking the triad. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 52(7).

Arduini, T., Iorio, D., and Patacchini, E. (2019) Weight, reference points, and the onset of eating disorders. Journal of Health Economics, 65.