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Eating Disorders

Born during Spring? If Yes – You’re at Greater Risk of Anorexia

posted 12:06 AM EST, Mon May 02, 2011
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British researchers who examined the medical records of anorexia patients say that an unusual number of these patients were born between March and June.

According to Oxford University researchers, if you were unlucky enough to start off between March and June, you have a 15% increased chance of developing anorexia. Babies born between September and October, by contrast, have a 20% reduced risk of developing the same condition.

The Study:

The scientists looked at the birth dates of over 1200 anorexia patients and compared these dates to a normal distribution across the year for those without an eating disorder; and they found a statistically significant anomaly – finding that a greater than anticipated number of these anorexia patients were in fact born during the spring months.

The Explanation

Researchers point to environmental factors as the likely cause of the increased springtime risk. Proposed causes include:

  • The diet eaten by mothers giving birth to spring babies
  • Sunshine levels and vitamin D differentials (low levels of winter sunshine can lead to vitamin D deficiencies during the later winter months – the last trimester months for spring babies)
  • Different seasonal infections (an increased risk of influenza, for example, over winter months.)
  • Temperature differentials

Lead researcher Dr. Lahiru Handunnetthi commented on the role the environment plays in prenatal development, saying, "During the last trimester of pregnancy, neuronal development takes place, so it may be that maternal nutrition has an impact on the development of psychiatric and neurological disorders. We get different seasonal foods – less fresh vegetables in winter, for example – and people eat different types of food."

Looking at another possible cause, he added that, "The vitamin D hypothesis has been gaining a lot of weight in other neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis. It might be that this is a common theme for psychiatric disorders and neurological conditions which we should look into. Vitamin D might be one of the leading factors making spring babies prone to anorexia.”

The study team, however, acknowledge that their research indentifies only an association spring births and anorexia and that it does not offer any clue to the likely causes.

Dr. Handunnetthi noted that the study team wasn’t shocked to find an upswing in spring baby anorexia cases, explaining that a spring birth is also associated with an increased risk of other mental health disorders, such as depression, bipolar and schizophrenia.

The full research findings can be examined as published in the current edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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  • Eating Disorders: Those born during spring months at a 15% increased risk of anorexia.
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