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Keywords:

  • Anorexia nervosa;
  • bulimia nervosa;
  • growth development;
  • head circumference;
  • offspring

Objective

To characterise early growth and neurocognitive development in children of mothers with a history of eating disorders (ED).

Design

A longitudinal cohort study.

Setting

Child-care centres in Stockholm, Sweden.

Population

Children born to mothers with previous ED (n = 47) (24 anorexia nervosa, 20 bulimia nervosa, 3 unspecified ED), and controls (n = 65).

Methods

Mean values and standard deviation scores of weight and height from birth to 5 years of age and head circumference up to 18 months of age were compared between groups. Neurocognitive development was studied at the age of 5 years by the validated parent questionnaire Five to Fifteen.

Main outcome measures

Head growth and neurocognitive development.

Results

We previously reported that mothers with a history of ED conceived infants with lower birthweight and head circumference than controls. At 3 months of age, body mass index (BMI) was no longer reduced but mean head circumferences of the children born to mothers with ED were smaller throughout the observation period. Similarly, the longitudinal results of the standard deviation scores of head circumference showed a significant overall group effect with lower levels in both subgroups of ED (anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa). The children of the ED mothers also had significantly higher Five to Fifteen scores than controls, reflecting difficulties in language skills. Head circumference at birth correlated with language skills in the children of mothers with ED.

Conclusion

Children of mothers with previous ED demonstrated an early catch-up in BMI, but the average head circumference continued to be delayed until at least 18 months of age. The reduced head growth was related to delayed neurocognitive development.