The risk factors for developing an ED

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The risk factors may be of an individual, family and social type. The combination of these can lead to the development of the illness and contribute to maintaining it.

DNA molecule or helix

Individual factors

  • Genetic predisposition. The risk of suffering an ED is greater when it is compared with the general population if there is a family history of an ED. However, despite there being a genetic vulnerability for the development of an ED, it is not a determining factor, since it is an illness that has multiple causes. This factor, combined with other environmental and social ones, may increase the probability of suffering from an ED.
  • Psychological traits. Certain personality traits, such as excessive perfectionism, a high level of self-demand, being very strict with oneself, as well as being regulated, the need to control everything, and be inflexible, are strongly associated with the appearance of an ED.
  • Low self‑esteem. To have low self‑esteem, as well as one of the personality traits with a tendency to introversion and insecurity toward oneself increase the probability of developing an ED. In individuals with a risk of having an ED, self-esteem is strongly linked to body image. If the body image is not that desired, there is usually low self‑esteem.
  • Adolescence. Adolescence is a vital stage in which there is a higher risk of developing an ED. The diagnosis of an ED may be given at any age, but in the majority of cases the disease appears during adolescence.
  • Female gender. Of every 10 cases of ED, 9 are female and 1 is male, thus being female implies a higher risk of suffering from an ED.
  • Obesity. Obesity in childhood and adolescence has been considered as a risk factor for developing an ED.
Father, mother and child family

Family factors

  • Dysfunctional/unstructured or over-protective family environment. Families in which there is no stable or secure structure, or on the other hand, those in which communication and family dynamics are excessively strict, controlling, and demanding, may influence the development of an ED, particularly in people with greater individual vulnerability.
  • Family education. Those families in which assertiveness and self-esteem are not fostered may favour the appearance of personal difficulties that may lead to an ED. Likewise, families that give a lot of importance to being slim and to the physical appearance as means of obtaining social success become transmitters of these values that induce searching for the ideal beauty and thinness.
Person surrounded by many messages

Social factors

  • Prevailing beauty model. Our culture promotes stereotypes and values in which the physical appearance is valued above all others.
  • Social pressure as regards image. The ideal beauty aesthetic is difficult to achieve for the majority of girls and women. The communication media favour this social pressure, continually associating being thin with personal success and the rejection and marginalisation of whoever does not comply with this canon of beauty.
  • Certain sports or professions. Some competitive sports, in which the physical appearance is essential to triumph in that sport may lead to the appearance of an ED. All those individuals associated with the world of fashion, entertainment and/or television/cinema world are also a risk group, since these professions often exercise a certain pressure as regards having a determined image.
  • Previous experiences. Individuals, particularly in the case of children and adolescents, who have received criticisms and have been mocked in relation to their physical appearance, and that due to this have felt insecure with their image can have a greater tendency to later develop an ED.
  • Life situations that may generate stress. As with other psychiatric disorders, life problems associated with an increase in stress can be risk factors for developing an ED.

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Substantiated information by:

Inés Hilker Salinas
Itziar Flamarique Valencia
María Caballero

Published: 14 January 2019
Updated: 14 January 2019

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