The Odd Couple: Autism + Anorexia?

in News
February 24th, 2011

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The Odd Couple

The Odd Couple via Omahype

Have you ever considered there to be commonalities between autism and anorexia? Up until a few weeks ago, the idea  never crossed my mind. I was more focused on how that other autism study about vaccines was proven to be a complete hoax.

On February 10th, researchers at the University of Bath in England released some information on an upcoming paper that is to be published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology. Dr. Mark Brosnan and the rest of his research team have possibly found a correlation between autism and eating disorders. Although there have been hints to this relationship in clinical settings (the news blurb refers to women diagnosed with eating disorders producing high scores on a “questionnaire that measures characteristics associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)”), no formal research had been performed to test the strength of the relationship between the two diseases.

Dr. Brosnan studied 61 boys and 71 girls between the ages of 11 and 14  to make up a total of 132 children. His reasoning for testing this age group was to see if there was a correlation between the two disorders at a young age in a “non-clinical population.” All of the students filled out questionnaires that examined their characteristics and how strongly they relate to autism and eating disorders. The to be published results suggest that there is indeed a link between the two disorders, and the relationship is especially strong between “eating disorder, attention to detail and communication skills.”

In addition to the results of the research being simply interesting, Brosnan has stated that finding this relationship is key since “‘The application of one research area to another may contribute to a better understanding of both clinical conditions.’” Brosnan then goes on to describe how autism is seen as a disorder that mainly affects men, and eating disorders mainly affect women. However, his research shows that high scores relating to “attention to detail” and “poor communication skills” were found the most among those who expressed the largest tendencies toward eating disorder. High scores in these two areas of the autism assessment were the greatest predictor of a high score on the eating disorder assessment, not sex of the student.

This paper has yet to be published, so more complex questions about the study will remain unanswered until the research is officially published. However, these implications prove to be very intriguing. Keep an eye on it. I know I will.

Eating disorders linked with autism in school children – University News of the University of Bath

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6 Comments on The Odd Couple: Autism + Anorexia?

  • Interesting. My partners son has Autism. Im not 100% what it is saying. We all have Autistic traits. I don’t think you are saying that autistic people are more prone to eating disorders or womenwith autism are. I hate lots of studies, because in 5yrs, they change thier mind. It’s quite the opposite with my step son. He has a huge appitite for food, it’s his thing and healthy food at that at the age of 9….Interesting articles across the site tho..

  • Hi DJH. I’m glad to hear that your step son has a healthy attitude towards food. I can’t currently say for sure if this paper finds a definite link between autism and eating disorders since it hasn’t been published yet, but I can say that I’m sure this paper simply attempts to find a link between eating disorders and autism to provide a greater understanding of both of them. I do not believe that this paper states that all individuals diagnosed with autism have eating disorders, but I do think this paper suggests that the incidence of having both is higher in populations of individuals with eating disorders or autism.

  • The idea that Autism and Anorexia Nervosa (AN) are related is not new, neither is this the first time researchers have looked into connections between the two conditions. The connection was first suggested by Chris Gilberg in 1985.

    Have a look at the wikipedia article on AN. I wrote the section on “relationship to autism” a while back. I was emailed by a woman with autism and AN who asked me to add that section to the article. I corresponded with her for a while, we found it fascinating how my obession with health (panic attacks over thinking I would die from a heart attack) and her obession health (fear of gaining weight) were both related to a deep seated fear of change, of growing up.

    Also, it is humorous to notice how the Wiki article has grown into one long list! It’s probably written by people with AN (or former AN). One of the odd behavioral habits of people with autism is the construction of lists due to “attention to detail”.

  • Really interesting read, I’ve not had time to see what you do or background but really interesting articles here…Keep it up..

  • There has to be a connection with Autism, probably undiagnosed,and disorders connected with low self esteem- eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse.

  • One commonality is that B12 deficiency is associated with anorexia (see CDC website). Similarly, people with autism often have B12 deficiencies.

    (Not to single out B12. For autism and anorexia, irregular gut flora/limited diets may be part of the reason for lack of B12 absorption.)

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