- Exposure to prenatal maternal infection is associated with an increased risk for eating disorders in adolescence.
- This association could be explained by in utero processes leading to impaired neurodevelopment or altered immunological profiles.
Why this matters
- Findings add to the existing evidence linking prenatal infections with a range of psychopathological outcomes in the offspring, by showing that this effect may be related to the aetiology of eating disorders.
- 10,202 children exposed to self-reported maternal infection across the 3 trimesters of pregnancy were included using data from Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).
- Primary outcome: presence of any, monthly (less frequent) or weekly (frequent) eating disorders at age 14 and 16 years; weight and shape concerns score at age 14 years.
- Funding: UCLH National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre.
- Of 10,202 children, 4785 (46.9%) and 4111 (40.3%) had available outcome data at age 14 and 16 years, respectively.
- After adjustment for confounders, exposed children were at an increased risk for frequent eating disorders at both age 14 (risk difference [RD], 0.009%; P=.0802) and 16 years (RD, 0.023%; P=.0068), though the evidence of an association was weak at age 14 years.
- Risk for any eating disorder was higher in exposed children aged 16 years (RD, 0.030; P=.0101) but not in those aged 14 years.
- No significant association was observed between prenatal infection and less frequent eating disorders in the exposed children aged 14 and 16 years.
- The exposed children had greater weight and shape concerns score at age 14 years (mean difference, 0.16; P≤.01).
- Infections were self-reported by the mother.
- Residual confounding.