The Eating-Disordered Brain
Though cultural forces may contribute to eating issues, experts now think that these disorders stem from abnormalities in the brain -- and genes may be responsible. A study of twins conducted at Michigan State University found that eating disorders are 59 to 82 percent heritable. A child who has a close relative with anorexia is up to ten times more likely to get it herself.
More research is needed to find out which genes put a child at high risk. Until then, parents can recognize personality traits in their children that tend to go hand in hand with eating disorders -- most often, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and perfectionism -- and then watch for signs of eating-disorder behaviors, such as restricting certain food groups or obsessing over body size. "A child who tends to put a lot of pressure on herself might find that restricting what she eats helps her gain a sense of control over something in a satisfying way," says Dr. Bermudez.