Teenage girls suffering from clinical anxiety could be at greater risk of developing eating disorders, a new study has suggested.
Data collected from girls between the ages of 13 and 18 showed a link between anxiety disorder and not eating for an entire day, which could lead to eating disorders such as anorexia.
Researchers at the University of Bristol and University College London said their findings could help identify individuals at risk of eating disorders and help to provide treatment which could prevent them from happening.
The study, published in European Eating Disorders Review, looked at a sample of 2,406 teenage girls from Bristol and found the risk of regular fasting in girls who met criteria for an anxiety disorder two years earlier was twice that of girls who did not have an anxiety disorder.
The results suggested the same link even after statistical adjustment for other factors known to increase risk of disordered eating behaviour.
Study authors suggested fasting was predictive of anorexia nervosa development, and supported the possibility that anxiety increases risk of early symptoms of eating disorder syndromes.
Data for the research came from Bristol Children of the 90s, a longitudinal study based at the University of Bristol.
Around 1.25 million people in the UK are thought to have an eating disorder, of which three quarters are female, according to the UK charity Beat.
Although experts say there is not enough research to reveal how common eating disorders actually are.
Commenting on the findings Dr Caitlin Lloyd, lead author of the new study, said: “Increasing our understanding of disordered eating behaviours and eating disorders is a necessary step in improving outcomes of prevention efforts.
“This is particularly important given the high burden of eating disorders, and their associated risks, with anorexia having one of the highest mortality rates of all psychiatric disorders.”
Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at Beat Eating Disorders, said: “This study should support vital early intervention for eating disorders, and long term we hope this research could play a role in helping to prevent these serious illnesses from developing in the first place.
“We also need more longitudinal studies like this to be funded, as there is still a lot more left to learn about how eating disorders develop.”
The news comes as earlier this month research suggested that social media may be fuelling eating disorders in children as young as 12.
Scientists from Flinders University in Adelaide looked at almost 1,000 students aged 12-to-14.
They found that more than half (52%) of the female participants showed signs of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, including overexercising or skipping meals.
These behaviours were more common among those with several social media accounts.
The scientists worry posting and commenting on pictures online drives “thin-ideal internalisation”.
If you or someone close to you is suffering from an eating disorder, you can visit the Beat eating disorders charity website for support and guidance.
Additional reporting PA