When a family member sufferers from either bulimia or anorexia, one rather important question that may cross the mind of that person is whether the same disorder will one day affect their children. Although there are no solid reasons as to why someone may or may not suffer from an eating disorder; research does suggest that genetics may actually play some role in deciding who is at risk.

What research says – is that studies show there are certain genetic factors involved in deciding if another family member may be at risk from developing an eating disorder, when one family member already has one (or has suffered from one). For example:

1. It is estimated that 10% of all bulimia and anorexia sufferers have a family member already suffering from one of the disorders.

2. Children are at a 10% higher risk of suffering from an eating disorder when another family member is already suffering from one.

3. Genetic factors are responsible for between 58% – 76% of all anorexia cases.

4. Around 6% of anorexia sufferers tend to have a sister suffering from the same disorder.

5. The chance of suffering from bulimia is four times higher when a relative of the same family sufferers from it.

6. When one identical twin suffers from an eating disorder, the probability of the other twin suffering from the same disorder is increased significantly.

The reasons behind these facts are:

(a) A variant in the gene for serotonin receptors (influential over neurological processes such as anxiety, depression, mood and perception, etc.) are shared in families where a history of eating disorders is present.

(b) The same genetic factors that make a person susceptible to personality disorders, substance abuse, and previously mentioned neurological processes, also makes a person more susceptible to eating disorders.

(c) Children who grow-up around family members who have a negative attitude towards food and eating in general, are at a significantly higher risk of suffering from an eating disorder than children who grow-up around family members who have a more positive attitude towards food and eating.

Other risk factors for developing an eating disorder may include: low-esteem, emotional disorders (anxiety, depression, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, or a post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] etc.), perfectionist personalities, impulsive or obsessive personality traits (distinguishing characteristics or qualities, especially of one’s personal nature), professions where weight may affect performance (actors/actresses, dancers, gymnasts, models, etc.), and where there is a history of sexual abuse.

Conclusion – Although there is no 100% clear-cut evidence that either bulimia or anorexia are hereditary, certain studies do indicate a strong connection between the two. Where a family history of eating disorders exists; there is a strong possibility that other members of the same family may at some point during their life-time also suffer from one (more common at a younger age).

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