Age of eating disorder (ED) onset has been of significant interest to both researchers and clinicians. The identification of factors associated with early or child onset has important prevention and treatment implications. The presence of prior trauma, resultant posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), ED severity, and comorbid psychopathology are of particular relevance to age of ED onset, but data are limited.
Adults (≥18 years, 93% female, total n = 1283) admitted to residential ED treatment self-reported age of ED onset. Patients were divided into child onset (ages 5–10 years), adolescent onset (11–17 years), and adult onset (≥18 years) groups and compared on a number of clinical features and assessment measures.
The child onset group had significantly higher rates and doses of traumatic life events; higher current PTSD prevalence; higher BMIs, higher severity of ED, depression and state-trait anxiety symptoms; worse quality of life; and more prior inpatient and residential admissions for ED treatment, in comparison to both the adolescent and adult onset groups. Similarly, the adolescent onset group had significantly higher rates than the adult onset group.
These results have important implications for prevention, treatment and long-term follow-up and highlight the need for early trauma-focussed treatment of ED patients.