Women should be screened for an eating disorder at their antenatal check-up, recommends a paper led by a team at the UCL Institute of Child Health.
The study, published in the European Eating Disorders Review, found that eating disorders are more common in pregnancy than previously thought. Screening women for eating disorders during pregnancy is important because it can be a time of high risk for both mother and baby.
In this study, which was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), over 700 pregnant women attending their first routine antenatal scan were assessed using an anonymous questionnaire adapted from the Eating Disorder Diagnostic Scale (EDDS). The prevalence of eating disorders and related symptoms was assessed during the first three months of pregnancy, and retrospectively in the six to twelve months prior to pregnancy, via the questionnaire.
A quarter of the women in the study were found to be highly concerned about their weight and shape, though only two per cent regularly used behaviours such as fasting, excessive exercising, induced vomiting or misusing laxatives or diuretics to prevent weight gain during pregnancy.
One in 12 women reported overeating and experiencing loss of control over what they ate (bingeing) at least twice a week while pregnant.
Overall, one in 14 (7.5%) met the criteria for a diagnosis of an eating disorder in the first three months of pregnancy.
Dr Abigail Easter, UCL Institute of Child Health who undertook the study says: “Women with eating disorders are often reluctant to disclose their illness to healthcare professionals, possibly due to a fear of stigma or fear that health services might respond in a negative way. Typical pregnancy symptoms such as weight gain and vomiting can also mask the presence of an eating disorder. Many women with eating disorders may therefore go undetected and untreated during pregnancy."
Dr Nadia Micali, UCL Institute of Child Health, who led the study, says: “There is good evidence from our research that eating disorders in pregnancy can affect both the mother and the developing baby. Greater awareness of eating disorders and their symptoms amongst antenatal health care professionals would help to better identify and manage such disorders amongst pregnant women.”
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Notes to Editors
1. 'Recognising the symptoms: how common are eating disorders in pregnancy?’, by Abigail Easter et al, is published in the journal European Eating Disorders Review.
2. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence, and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (www.nihr.ac.uk).
3. This article/paper/report presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.
4. The UCL Institute of Child Health, in partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), is the largest centre in Europe devoted to clinical and basic research and postgraduate teaching in children’s health. Academics at the UCL Institute of Child Health work together with clinicians at GOSH to form an integrated and multi-disciplinary approach to the understanding, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of childhood disease. Many individuals hold joint appointments at both institutions. This allows the hospital and the institute to work together to translate research undertaken in laboratories into clinical trials and treatments in the hospital, bringing real benefits to the children at GOSH and to the wider paediatric community. See www.ucl.ac.uk/ich/homepage for more information.