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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Birthday blues for anorexics
Eating disorders may have their roots in the seasons
Women born in spring or early summer are more likely to develop anorexia in later life, claims a Scottish expert.

Dr John Eagles, of the Royal Cornhill Hospital in Aberdeen says that the finding could shed more light on the origins of the condition.

Anorexic women are preoccupied with their weight and appearance, often visualising themselves as overweight when they are severely underweight.

Their self-starving behaviour can lead to long term health problems, such as osteoporosis and heart problems.

The condition can prove fatal in as many as one in 10 cases.

Seasonal factor

Dr Eagles, reports New Scientist, looked at 446 Scottish women diagnosed with anorexia, or who had the symptoms of the condition.

Their birthdays were compared with 5,766 unaffected women born in the same region of Scotland.

Between March and June, there were 13% more anorexics born than average, and 30% more in June itself.

While the findings perhaps point to a seasonal factor in the development of anorexia, scientists are still guessing as to what this might be.

Dr Eagles said: "There are many theories about the aetiology of anorexia running from social lines, there is increasingly the equation of slim with attractiveness and of course there are things like family difficulties and self-esteem problems. But you may balance that with biological factors as well."

Scans have revealed structural abnormalities in the brains of some anorexic women, although the origin of these is unclear.

There is some evidence that other psychiatric conditions which emerge some years after birth may owe something to the season of birth.

Studies have linked schizophrenia with viral infections in the mother - such as influenza - during the second three month period of pregnancy.

This is the time when the foetal brain at its most sensitive developmental stage.

Schizophrenics appear more likely to be born in the first four months of the year.

However, not all experts are persuaded.

Daniel le Grange, from the University of Chicago, told New Scientist that the seasonal link was not very powerful statistically, and "probably meaningless".

The study was originally published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Dr John Eagles
"There are many theories about the aetiology of anorexia"
See also:

30 May 00 | Health
Anorexia: A case history
20 Dec 00 | Medical notes
Eating disorders
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