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Anorexia linked to autism-like behaviors


Anorexics may be more likely to show symptoms similar in nature to autistic individuals, a new study reveals.

Researchers at Cambridge University's Autism Research Center found that anorexic girls showed significantly more autistic traits than girls without the eating disorder, suggesting that treatment options for anorexics might need to be modified.

Order and systems

Simon Baron-Cohen, autism expert and lead researcher, said that both anorexia and autism are characterized by a critical need for order, control and routine.

"In both conditions, there is a strong interest in systems," he told Reuters. "In girls with anorexia, they have latched onto a system that concerns body weight, shape and food intake."

Beneath surface behavior, someone with anorexia and someone with autism may share mental patterns that are more similar than previously thought, Baron-Cohen explained.

The study

Researchers examined test scores of 66 anorexic girls ages 12 to 18 that were designed to measure autistic traits through the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). Their scores were then compared to those of 1,600 typical teenagers who had neither anorexia nor autism.

Girls with anorexia, they found, were much more likely to exhibit autistic traits – scoring within the AQ five times more frequently than typical girls. Anorexics also showed lower scores on the Empathy Quotient (EQ), which is common for autistic individuals as well.


The parallels seen between autism and anorexia could hint at new treatment options that focus more on socialization, mental patterns and adaptability, said co-author Tony Jaffa.

"Shifting their interest away from body weight and dieting on to a different but equally systematic topic may be helpful," he said. "[And] recognizing that some patients with anorexia may also need help with social skills and communication, and with adapting to change, also gives us a new treatment angle."

The study is published in the journal Molecular Autism.

Source: Medical Daily