Saturday 24 August 2013

"No evidence whatsoever for a genetic connection"...?

Dear University Eating Disorders Researcher, Yesterday Ben and I were interviewed by the BBC for "Inside Out", to be screened in late September. As part of the slot, the BBC is also interviewing several eating disorder experts, one of which is you. So I was a little concerned when I was told that, in the course of your extensive research, you had found "no evidence whatsoever" for a genetic connection for an eating disorder. So I would like to point you towards the following resources, which are widely available, and have been compiled by recognised global leaders in eating disorders treatment, understanding and research.

The first are James Lock (Director of the Eating Disorders Program for Children and Adolescents at Stanford University, California) and Daniel Le Grange (Director of the Eating Disorders Program at The University of Chicago Hospitals), co-authors of the highly respected book "Help Your Teenager Beat An Eating Disorder".

On page 61, under the heading "It's Biology!" they say:

"Eating disorders are three to five times more common in families in which a person is found to have such a disorder, than in families in which no one has had an eating disorder" and goes on to talk about the research that reinforces this concept, followed by "So, vulnerability to eating disorders appears to be inherited".

The following paragraph also talks about heritability at length.

So, dear researcher, do please take a look at this book.

Also, an invaluable resource published only last year, which boils down a mountain of information on what is going on in the field of eating disorders research at the moment is "A Collaborative Approach To Eating Disorders" edited by June Alexander and Janet Treasure, with contributions from SIXTY-TWO of the world's leading experts on eating disorders.

If I was conducting serious research into eating disorders this is one of the first books I'd get hold of. So, please dear, dear researcher, do get hold of a copy. It's readily available on Amazon.

In it you will find a stack of evidence about why, in many cases, eating disorders are thought to have genetic roots. Carrie Arnold, in her Introduction to the book, says: "Research reveals that genetics comprise up to 86 per cent of the reason a person develops an eating disorder (Klump et al 2001; Lilenfield et al 1998)."

Actually, look at those dates. This isn't recent research. It's been around for a while, so I am really surprised that you haven't found any evidence for a genetic connection.

There is a lot more, too, in this book - too much to quote here. So please do send off for it.

Also, when writing my latest book "When Anorexia Came To Visit", quite frequently relatives have eating disorders or other mental health issues. We have mental health issues in our family, too, so the genetic connection makes total sense to me.

So, dear researcher, please dig a little deeper. I think you'll find that there is quite a bit of evidence that points towards a genetic connection.


  1. Well stated Bev and not to leave out the work of Dr. Cynthia Bulik, Dr. Bulik who "holds the first endowed professorship in eating disorders in the United States and is also Director of the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders." …"research includes treatment, laboratory, animal, epidemiological, twin and molecular genetic studies of eating disorders"

    "She founded and leads the 18-country Genetic Consortium for Anorexia Nervosa."

    Please refer to "Exploring the gene-environment in eating disorders: (J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2005 September; 30(5): 335–339.) Full journal article available:

    I hope this is helpful.

    Best wishes,
    Gaby Matthewman