Background: Self-harm and eating disorders are often comorbid in clinical samples but their co-occurrence in the general population is unclear. Given that only a small proportion of individuals who self-harm or have disordered eating present to clinical services, and that both self-harm and eating disorders are associated with substantial morbidity and mortality, it is important to study these behaviours at a population level.

Methods: We assessed the co-occurrence of self-harm and disordered eating behaviours in 3384 females and 2326 males from a UK population-based cohort: the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Participants reported on their self-harm and disordered eating behaviours (fasting, purging, binge-eating and excessive exercise) in the last year via questionnaire at 16 and 24 years. At each age we assessed how many individuals who self-harm also reported disordered eating, and how many individuals with disordered eating also reported self-harm.

Results: We found high comorbidity of self-harm and disordered eating. Almost two-thirds of 16-year-old females, and two-in-five 24-year old males who self-harmed also reported some form of disordered eating. Young people with disordered eating reported higher levels of self-harm at both ages compared to those without disordered eating.

Limitations: We were not able to measure whether participants identified their disordered eating as a method of self-harm.

Conclusions: Self-harm and disordered eating commonly co-occur in young people in the general population. It is important to screen for both sets of difficulties to provide appropriate treatment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-390
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date7 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jan 2021

Structured keywords



  • self-harm
  • disordered eating
  • comorbidity
  • epidemiology

Cite this