Objective: Cross-sectional associations between eating disorders (EDs) and deficits in neuropsychological functioning have been well documented; however, limited research has examined whether neuropsychological functioning is prospectively associated with EDs. The current study investigated prospective associations between neuropsychological functioning in childhood (ages 8 and 10) and ED behaviours and disorders in adolescence (at ages 14, 16, and 18 years) in a population-based sample.
Method: Participants (N = 4,803) were children enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a population-based, prospective study of women and their children. Regression methods tested associations between facets of neuropsychological functioning (attention, working memory, and inhibition) and eating disorder symptoms and diagnoses.
Results: Better scores on working memory tasks in childhood were associated with decreased risk of fasting but increased risk of excessive exercise during adolescence. Better inhibitory control was associated with decreased risk for disordered eating at age 14, and attentional difficulties were associated with increased risk for binge eating disorder during adolescence among boys but not girls.
Conclusions: Neuropsychological functioning may enhance risk for disordered eating behaviours in specific ways. Overall, effect sizes were small, and results did not support global associations between neuropsychological differences and ED risk in this sample.
- eating disorders
- working memory