Eating disorders are beginning to affect young women and men very early in life. Today, it isn’t uncommon to find children in middle school suffering from eating disorders. These issues definitely have an impact on their physical health, but for women, they have an even more serious consequence. Several different types of eating disorders have been found to negatively impact women’s fertility.

A study conducted at the University of Helsinki, Finland found that women suffering from binge-eating disorder (BED) are more than twice as likely to miscarry. In addition to this, they found that women suffering from bulimia are twice as likely to have an abortion, while women with anorexia are more likely to have trouble conceiving at all. The study focused mainly on young women suffering from BED and bulimia since not enough anorexic participants could be found.

Eating disorders are unfortunately common in most Western countries, particularly among young women and girls, though young men and boys are also affected. It’s estimated that about 5-10% of all young girls in developed countries struggle with some sort of eating disorder at one point in their lives. 

"Early recognition, effective care and sufficiently long follow-up periods for eating disorders are crucial in the prevention of reproductive health problems," states researcher Milla Linna from the University of Helsinki, Hjelt Institute.

The study examined 15 years of data from the eating disorder clinic of the Helsinki University Central Hospital. The data was collected between 1995 and 2010. Over 11,000 women participated in the study, and a control group of 1,028 was also included. The two groups were matched as closely as possible so that the control group reflected the same age, gendered, and location of the other participants.

"This study does not provide an explanation for the reproductive health problems observed in women with eating disorders. Based on previous research, however, it seems likely that the problems can at least partially be attributed to the eating disorder. Both being underweight and obese are known to be associated with the increased risk of infertility and miscarriage. Eating disorders also often involve menstrual irregularities or the absence of menstruation, which may lead to neglecting contraception and ultimately to unwanted pregnancies," hypothesizes Linna.

Currently, a follow-up study is being conducted to examine the pregnancy and delivery of women who are currently suffering from eating disorders.

Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki) (2013, October 8). Eating disorders associated with reproductive health problems. ScienceDaily.

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