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New research shows that people who suffer from recurrent abdominal pain in childhood may be more likely to have disordered eating as teenagers.

Child holding abdomen in pain

This is the first study to provide prospective evidence of an association between recurrent abdominal pain at aged 7-9 years and fasting to control weight at aged 16 years. The study, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, suggests that recurrent abdominal pain, the most common gastro-intestinal complaint of childhood, may be an independent risk factor for later fasting to control weight.

Researchers at the University of Oxford, Duke University USA, and the University of Bristol, used the ‘Children of the 90s’ population cohort of 14,000 children in the UK, to explore this association.

Dr. Kate Stein, lead author on the study, Department of Psychiatry, University Oxford, said, ‘Record numbers of young people are being referred to NHS eating disorder services with more than twice as many referrals in 2020 as there were in 2017. The factors behind eating disorders are complex, but our findings suggest that for some patients, recurrent abdominal pain in childhood may precede and contribute to later problems.

‘While we cannot confirm that childhood recurrent abdominal pain increases the risk of developing an eating disorder, we suspect that some children become fearful of their pain and start to avoid foods which they associate with the pain. This could then set them on a trajectory which leads to unhelpful fasting behaviours in adolescence.’

Read the full story on the Department of Psychiatry website

The story is also featured on the University of Oxford website.

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