September 18, 2008 — Women who have bulimia in
pregnancy have more symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to
pregnant women without eating disorders. A new study from the Norwegian
Institute of Public Health (NIPH) shows that they also have lower
self-esteem and are more dissatisfied with life and their relationship
with their partner.
The findings come from the world’s first major population study of
psychosocial factors in bulimia (bulimia nervosa) during pregnancy.
Bulimia in pregnancy can have serious consequences for both mother and
The new study includes more than 41 000 pregnant women who responded
to a questionnaire from the Norwegian Mother and Child Study (MoBa)
from the NIPH. Read more about MoBa in the link at the bottom of this
Higher incidence of physical and sexual abuse
Out of more than 41 000 pregnant women, 96 (0.2 %) met the criteria
for broadly defined bulimia (bulimia nervosa) in the first trimester of
pregnancy. 67 of the women reported that they had also had bulimia six
months before pregnancy, while 26 had developed bulimia after becoming
pregnant. It is unknown whether these women had bulimia earlier in life.
Women with bulimia reported lower self-esteem and less satisfaction
with life and their relationship with their partner. In addition, they
reported a higher prevalence of symptoms associated with anxiety and
– Women with bulimia reported a higher prevalence of life-long
physical abuse, sexual abuse and major depression compared with others,
says Cecilie Knoph Berg at the Division of Mental Health at the NIPH. –
Women who had bulimia six months before pregnancy but who were
symptom-free in the first trimester, experienced higher self-esteem and
satisfaction with life compared to other women with persistent symptoms.
Bulimia was measured six months before pregnancy and in the first
trimester of pregnancy by completing the questionnaire in the first
Knoph Berg is the first author of “Psychosocial factors associated
with broadly-defined bulimia nervosa during early pregnancy: Findings
from the Norwegian mother and child cohort study” which is published in
the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
Mostly women with bulimia
Eating disorders affect both young and old but often occur for the
first time in adolescence. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are about ten
times more common among women than men. At any one time, Norwegian
women in the age group 15-44 years have an eating disorder: 0.3 percent
have anorexia, two percent have bulimia and three percent have binge
eating disorder. The figures are based on Norwegian studies, with
international studies showing similar results.
Bulimia (bulimia nervosa) is episodes of binge eating combined with
various behaviours to compensate for the large intake of food and to
avoid weight gain. These behaviours include vomiting, use of laxatives,
periods of fasting or training. Vomiting leads to disturbances in the
body’s salt balance and enamel erosion of teeth. People with bulimia
are often of normal weight or overweight. Approximately 30 percent of
persons with bulimia have a history of anorexia.