Trajectories of autistic social traits in childhood and adolescence and disordered eating behaviours at age 14 years: A UK general population cohort study

Francesca Solmi*, Francesca Bentivegna, Helen Bould, William Mandy, Radha Kothari, Dheeraj Rai, David Skuse, Glyn Lewis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Abstract

Background: Some people with eating disorders have difficulties with social communication. However, no longitudinal evidence regarding the direction of this association exists. We investigated trajectories of autistic social traits across childhood and adolescence in adolescents with and without disordered eating behaviours in early adolescence.

Methods: We used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Our disordered eating measure indicated presence of any, monthly, and weekly disordered eating (fasting, purging, dieting, binge-eating) at age 14 years. Autistic social traits were reported by mothers using the Social Communication Disorders Checklist (SCDC) at age seven, 11, 14, and 16 years. We modelled SCDC score trajectories using multilevel negative binomial models adjusting for a number of child- and maternal-level confounders.

Results: Of the 5,381 adolescents included in our sample, 421 (7.8%) experienced one or more disordered eating behaviours, and 148 (2.8%) weekly episodes. Adolescents with disordered eating had a 20% increase in SCDC scores (relative risk (RR) 1.23, 95% Confidence Interval (CI):1.14, 1.32) compared to those without disordered eating. This association was particularly apparent for those reporting weekly (RR 1.43, 95%CI: 1.27, 1.61) as opposed to monthly disordered eating (RR 1.12, 95%CI: 1.01, 1.22).

Conclusions: Greater autistic social traits in childhood could represent a risk factor for the development of disordered eating in adolescence. Although mechanisms of this association need to be elucidated, clinicians should be aware that autistic social traits could have predated the eating disorder when managing people with these conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Early online date3 May 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 May 2020

Keywords

  • eating disorders
  • autistic traits
  • cohort study
  • trajectories
  • ALSPAC

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