Since 1985, researchers have been tracking dozens of teenagers with anorexia nervosa as well as an equally large control group of healthy persons. The groups have been investigated and compared several times as the years have passed and the findings have just been published in the British Journal of Psychiatry and the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
"This study is unique in an international perspective. It is the only study in the world that reflects the natural course of anorexia nervosa in the population," says researcher Elisabet Wentz, an Associate Professor in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Gothenburg.
Wentz found that three women had still not recovered from anorexia, 18 years after the start of the study. Thirteen people, or around 25 percent, are on disability benefit or have been signed-off sick for more than six months due to an eating or other psychiatric disorder. Thirty-nine percent have at least one other psychiatric disorder, in addition to the eating disorder. The most common of these is obsessive compulsive disorder.
But the results also contain some positive surprises. "Previous studies have shown that anorexia is a diagnosis with a very poor prognosis, with as many as one in five patients dying as a result of the disease. In contrast, we have not had a single death among the subjects of our study," said Wentz.
Interestingly, other studies have shown that infertility is a common complication for adult women who have had anorexia, as are increased risks of giving birth prematurely. But the women in the two groups in this study have had essentially the same number of children, although the women who have had anorexia were younger when they had their first child and the children had a lower birth weight than children of women in the control group. "None of the women who had had children still suffered from an eating disorder, but it is still more common that they worry about whether their babies are putting on weight," noted Wentz.
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Source: University of Gothenburg