An Alternative Approach to Understand Eating Disorders and Introducing New Treatments

According to the researchers both genetics and early eating, lifestyle plays a key role in eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.

As per the Transforming Mental Health, a research charity, one-fourth of the young generation is currently facing the eating disorder symptoms. These symptoms which usually trigger before the adulthood phase of life have been rising tremendously in recent years.

Researchers from the University College of London have pinpointed the factors which are often ignored and now are determined to diagnose the condition as early as possible, prevent the condition from getting worse and introduce new treatments.

Dr. Clare Llewellyn is leading a UCL research team to carefully look over this matter as the previous studies on eating disorders have only targeted psychological risk factors including body figure and self-confidence.

“In the field, what’s been talked about more is the social things, the extent to which the parent talks to the child about the child’s weight and their own weight and whether their parents have eating disorders. What we don’t know is the child’s own traits and predispositions,” Dr. Clare Llewellyn said.

The main goal of the study is to build up research and develop some new treatments for eating disorders. Some part of the research already has been covered by Llewellyn and his team, in which they observed the influence of genetics and early childhood eating habits on obesity.

Eating disorder, anorexia is classified as a severe health condition and currently has the highest mortality rate than any mental illness or any other condition.

According to Llewellyn since the ending of the human genome project in 2003 researchers are after the genetic code which plays a key role in the variation of weight. The researchers have been successful in finding the genes in the brain that influences the appetite. “Most people don’t realize the extent to which your appetite is controlled by the brain, rather than something we just learn,” Llewellyn said.

She is currently working on the hypothesis that some genetic code which supports disordered eating also influence body mass index. If the hypothesis comes out to be true then there are higher possibilities of diagnosing this condition in its early stage through screening programmes.

Another aspect which the study cover is about how eating habits of parents affect children’s eating practices during the stage of adolescence. Llewellyn pointed out that the researchers are not trying to blame the eating habits of parents but instead are focusing on the eating practices which are optimal.

“We are trying to look for parental feeding practices that predict a really healthy relationship with food – plus genetic susceptibility and how that affects appetite – to try to identify the best strategies parents can use to help their child develop a healthy relationship with food,” she said. The team will extract data of the twins whose medical records are updated from birth to their teenage years.

According to Sophie, the director of the research “[The] project takes forward vital new research into understanding and preventing eating disorders. There is a real potential to see tangible results that could change the lives of the 725,000 people who are affected by eating disorders each year in the UK.”

“There is a huge dearth in funding into mental health research, especially in eating disorders. This leaves too many people without the information and support they need. The potential of this project is significant, from informing parents on healthy eating practices through to set the stage for the development of new treatments.”

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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