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Autism clue to anorexia

Tuesday August 6th, 2013

The problem of anorexia in girls may be linked to autism, British researchers reveal today.

The condition has a "mild echo" of autism, according to a senior researcher.

Whilst autism is more commonly diagnosed in men, anorexia is most often found in girls.

Researchers say some girls who develop anorexia may in fact have a kind of undiagnosed autism.

The Cambridge University researchers set out their findings in the journal Molecular Autism.

They say that girls who develop anorexia often show characteristics such as rigidity of behaviour and attitude, an obsession with detail and being very self-focussed - similar to people with autism.

They report a study on 66 teenaged girls with anorexia who were compared with another 1,600 teenagers.

The study showed that five times as many of the girls with anorexia came within the autistic spectrum as in the general population.

The researchers, from the university's autism research centre, say the findings might help with treatments for anorexia. This would include recognition that patients might have difficulty with social skills and also seeking to find them other interests away from body weight and dieting.

Researcher Professor Simon Baron-Cohen said: “Traditionally, anorexia has been viewed purely as an eating disorder. This is quite reasonable, since the girl’s dangerously low weight, and their risk of malnutrition or even death has to be the highest priority.

"But this new research is suggesting that underlying the surface behaviour, the mind of a person with anorexia may share a lot with the mind of a person with autism. In both conditions, there is a strong interest in systems. In girls with anorexia, they have latched onto a system that concerns body weight, shape, and food intake.”

Dr Bonnie Auyeung, a member of the research team, said: "Autism is diagnosed more often in males. This new research suggests that a proportion of females with autism may be being overlooked or misdiagnosed, because they present to clinics with anorexia."

Do girls with anorexia nervosa have elevated autistic traits? Molecular Autism 6 August 2013

Tags: Mental Health | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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