Certain risk factors increase the risk of anorexia, including:

  • Being female. Anorexia is more common in girls and women. However, boys and men have been increasingly developing eating disorders, perhaps because of growing social pressures.
  • A young age. Anorexia is more common among teenagers. Still, people of any age can develop this eating disorder, though it's rare in people older than 40. Teenagers may be more susceptible because of all of the changes their bodies go through during puberty. They also may face increased peer pressure and may be more sensitive to criticism or even casual comments about weight or body shape.
  • Genetics. Changes in certain genes may make people more susceptible to anorexia nervosa.
  • Family history. Those with a first-degree relative — a parent, sibling or child — who had the disease have a much higher risk of anorexia nervosa.
  • Weight changes. When people lose or gain weight — on purpose or unintentionally — those changes may be reinforced by positive comments from others if weight was lost, or by negative comments if there was a weight gain. Such changes and comments may trigger someone to start dieting to an extreme.
  • Transitions. Whether it's a new school, home or job, a relationship breakup, or the death or illness of a loved one, change can bring emotional stress and increase the risk of anorexia nervosa.
  • Sports, work and artistic activities. Athletes, actors and television personalities, dancers, and models are at higher risk of anorexia. For some, such as ballerinas, ultrathinness may even be a professional requirement. Sports associated with anorexia include running, wrestling, figure skating and gymnastics. Professional men and women may believe they'll improve their upward mobility by losing weight, and then take it to an extreme. Coaches and parents may inadvertently raise the risk by suggesting that young athletes lose weight.
  • Media and society. The media, such as television and fashion magazines, frequently feature a parade of skinny models and actors. But whether the media merely reflect social values or actually drive them isn't clear-cut. In any case, these images may seem to equate thinness with success and popularity.
Jan. 05, 2012

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