This increased risk of criminality in women with eating disorders is
something doctors should pay attention to because convictions could
increase a patient’s stress and anxiety, interrupt treatment and
hamper recovery, the authors write in the International Journal of
Eating Disorders, online August 9.
“The study’s findings confirm and extend what was previously known -
that certain personality traits, like impulsivity, and the presence
of other psychiatric disorders may confer added risk to a range of
other problems, like criminal activity,” said Deborah Glasofer of
Columbia University Medical Center in New York, who wasn’t involved
in the study.
“By no means is there evidence that all eating disorders are
associated with any one particular behavior profile, but eating
disorders are serious illnesses which can impact all aspects of the
afflicted individual’s life,” Glasofer told Reuters Health in an
For example, Glasofer said, a subset of people who experience
frequent binge-eating episodes - within the context of anorexia
nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder - may be driven to
obtain large, often expensive, quantities of food on a regular basis
and this can lead to financial duress, resulting in possible theft
of food items.
“Information regarding the specific types of theft, and the
motivation for this behavior, which individuals with eating
disorders were at risk for was beyond the scope of the current
investigation, but this stands out as a useful issue for researchers
to evaluate in future studies,” Glasofer said.
Shuyang Yao, a researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm,
and colleagues analyzed data on more than 900,000 Swedish women born
between 1979 and 1998. Using health and crime registries, they
identified women diagnosed with eating disorders starting at age 15,
and those convicted of any crime by age 35.
About 11,000 women were diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and just
over 5,000 were diagnosed with bulimia. Among women with anorexia,
nearly 12% had a theft conviction by the time they were 35, and 7%
had convictions for other crimes.
Among women with bulimia, 18% had theft convictions and 13% had
other convictions. In comparison, among women with neither eating
disorder, about 5% had been convicted of theft and 6% had
convictions for other crimes.
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When the researchers accounted for other mental health issues like
ADHD or personality disorders among the women with eating disorders,
they found those other conditions explained some of the criminal
behavior in women with bulimia, but not in those with anorexia.
The study was not designed to determine whether or how eating
disorders might influence criminal behavior.
Yao did not respond to a request for comments, but the study team
points out in their report that they didn’t have information about
the individuals’ motives for stealing or what kinds of items they
stole. The researchers also only had information about women who
sought treatment for their eating disorders, but many women do not
seek treatment, they note.
Glasofer advised anyone worried that a friend or loved one is
experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder that it’s important to
“Speak privately and convey your specific concerns - changes in
behavior, mood, or attitude about eating, weight and appearance that
you have observed - in a supportive way,” she said.
Depending on the nature of your relationship with the person, you
might suggest that they speak with someone who could offer a
professional opinion, like a doctor or a therapist, and help them
figure out the best next steps, Glasofer added.
“If, on the other hand, the conversation feels tense and your friend
or loved one does not acknowledge a problem, you might simply leave
yourself open as someone they can talk to about this when they are
Int J Eat Disord 2017.
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