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Keywords:

  • eating disorders;
  • adolescents;
  • males;
  • females;
  • family characteristics;
  • socioeconomic position

ABSTRACT

Objective

We examined how parental characteristics and other aspects of family background were associated with the development of eating disorders (ED) in males and females.

Method

We used register data and record linkage to create the prospective, total-population study the Stockholm Youth Cohort. This cohort comprises all children and adolescents who were ever residents in Stockholm County between 2001 and 2007, plus their parents and siblings. Individuals born between 1984 and 1995 (N = 249, 884) were followed up for ED from age 12 to end of 2007. We used Cox regression modeling to investigate how ED incidence was associated with family socioeconomic position, parental age, and family composition.

Results

In total, 3,251 cases of ED (2,971 females; 280 males) were recorded. Higher parental education independently predicted a higher rate of ED in females [e.g., adjusted hazard ratio (HR) 1.69 (95% CI: 1.42, 2.02) for degree-level vs. elementary-level maternal education], but not in males [HR 0.73 (95% CI: 0.42, 1.28), p < 0.001 for gender interaction]. In females, an increasing number of full-siblings was associated with lower rate of ED [e.g., fully adjusted HR 0.92 (95% CI: 0.88, 0.97) per sibling], whereas an increasing number of half-siblings was associated with a higher rate [HR 1.05 (95% CI: 1.01, 1.09) per sibling].

Discussion

The effect of parental education on ED rate varies between males and females, whereas the effect of number of siblings varies according to whether they are full or half-siblings. A deeper understanding of these associations and their underlying mechanisms may provide etiological insights and inform the design of preventive interventions. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (Int J Eat Disord 2013; 46:693–700)