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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Spring babies face anorexia risk

Embargoed until 28 April 2011

Anorexia nervosa is more common among people born in the spring, according to new study published in the May issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry. The researchers say their study – which is the largest to date – provides “clear evidence” of a season of birth effect in anorexia.

The research team, led by Dr Lahiru Handunnetthi, of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford, examined the birth dates of 1,293 patients with anorexia and compared their distribution to the general population using the Walter and Elwood seasonality test and Chi Square test. They found an excess of anorexia births between March and June, and a deficit from September to October.

Although some previous studies have suggested a link between season of birth and eating disorders, these involved much smaller numbers of patients and did not reach statistical significance.

Dr Handunnetthi said: “We meta-analysed four cohorts of anorexia nervosa patients from the UK, making this the largest ever study to assess the presence of a season of birth effect in anorexia. We found that susceptibility to anorexia nervosa is significantly influenced by a person’s season of birth, being higher in those people born in the spring and lower in those born in the autumn.

Dr Handunnetthi said: “A number of previous studies have found that mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression are more common among those born in the spring – so this finding in anorexia is perhaps not surprising. However, our study only provides evidence of an association. Now we need more research to identify which factors are putting people at particular risk.”

The researchers believe that environmental factors around the time of conception or when the baby is developing in the womb may be responsible. Dr Handunnetthi said: “Seasonal changes in temperature, sunlight exposure and vitamin D levels, maternal nutrition and exposure to infections are all possible risk factors. Identifying these risk factors is important in helping us understand and maybe even prevent illness in future.”


For further information, please contact:
Kathy Oxtoby or Deborah Hart in the Communications Department.

Telephone: 0203 701 2544 or 0203 701 2538

 

References:

Disanto G, Handel AE, Para AE, Ramogopalan SV and Handunnetthi L. Season of birth and anorexia nervosa. British Journal of Psychiatry 2011; 198: 404-405

 

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