March 1992

Is Puberty a Risk Factor for Eating Disorders?

Author Affiliations

From the Stanford (Calif) University School of Medicine (Drs Killen, Hayward, Litt, Hammer, Wilson, and Taylor and Mss Miner and Varady) and the University of Arizona School of Medicine, Tucson (Dr Shisslak).

Am J Dis Child. 1992;146(3):323-325. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1992.02160150063023

• Objective.  —To examine the association between stage of sexual maturation and eating disorder symptoms in a community-based sample of adolescent girls.

Participants.  —All sixth- and seventh-grade girls (N = 971) enrolled in four northern California middle schools.

Main Variables Examined.  —Pubertal development measured using self-reported Tanner stage and body mass index (kg/m2). The section of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R Disorders (SCID) discussing bulimia nervosa was used to evaluate symptoms of bulimia nervosa.

Results.  —Girls manifesting eating disorder symptoms, while not significantly older than their peers without such symptoms, were more developmentally advanced as determined with Tanner self-staging. The odds ratio for the association between sexual maturity and symptoms was 1.8 (95% confidence interval, 1.2 to 2.8); ie, at each age, an increase in sexual maturity of a single point was associated with a 1.8-fold increase in the odds of presenting symptoms. The odds ratio for the association between body mass index (adjusted for sexual maturity) and symptoms was 1.02 (95% confidence interval, 1.0 to 1.05). There was no independent effect of age or of the interaction between age and the sexual maturity index.

Conclusions.  —These results suggest that (1) puberty may be a risk factor for the development of eating disorders, and (2) prevention efforts might best be directed at prepubertal and peripubertal adolescents.(AJDC. 1992;146:323-325)