Women suffering from eating disorders may have fewer chances of giving birth, a new Finnish study reveals.

Facts and figures

According to NICE guidelines, about 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder – 10% of these individuals are anorexic, 40% are bulimic and the remaining 50% fall in the EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified) category which includes binge-eating disorders.

Study details

The research, conducted by the University of Helsinki in collaboration with the National Institute for Health and Welfare, involved analysing 15 years of data collected from over 11,000 women.

2,257 of these women were patients treated at the eating disorder clinic of the Helsinki University Central Hospital from 1995 to 2010. The remaining 9,028 participants represented the control group.

To measure reproductive health outcomes, the researchers looked at the number of pregnancies, live births, children, induced abortions, miscarriages and infertility treatments.

The study was published in the international Journal of Eating Disorders.

The findings

The authors reported that:

  • In general, women with an eating disorder have fewer chances of having a child compared to their peers. This issue appeared to be more pronounced among women with anorexia – participants in the anorexia group were half as likely to conceive compared to the women in the control group.
  • Women affected by bulimia had a twofold increase risk of induced abortions compared to others of the same age.
  • Women suffering from a binge eating disorder were three times more likely to miscarry compared to women who weren’t affected by this condition.
  • 50% of the pregnancies of women who had received treatment for a binge eating disorder ended in a miscarriage.

The results show that unexplained reproductive issues may remain even after a woman has recovered from her eating disorder and has regained a healthy weight and reached normal hormone levels.

Possible causes

“This study does not provide an explanation for the reproductive health problems observed in women with eating disorders. Based on previous research, however, it seems likely that the problems can at least partially be attributed to the eating disorder. Both being underweight and obese are known to be associated with the increased risk of infertility and miscarriage. Eating disorders also often involve menstrual irregularities or the absence of menstruation, which may lead to neglecting contraception and ultimately to unwanted pregnancies,” hypothesises study lead author Linna (MD).

Do you suffer from an eating disorder? Don’t hesitate to get support. “Early recognition, effective care and sufficiently long follow-up periods for eating disorders are crucial in the prevention of reproductive health problems,” stressed researcher Milla Linna.

Helpful links

Beat (Beating Eating Disorders)

Anorexia and Bulimia Care

National Centre for Eating Disorders

Want to know more about the health risks of eating disorders and their adverse effects on fertility and pregnancy? Check out our articles for information on anorexia and bulimia.