Understanding social, genetic and environmental risks factors across eating disorders


Supervisor: Dr Gerome Breen

Non-accademic partner: Beat – the Eating Disorders Charity

Eating disorders are severe psychiatric illnesses associated with greatly reduced quality of life (Ágh et al., 2016) and increased mortality, rendering them the most lethal psychiatric disorders (Chesney, Goodwin, & Fazel, 2014). The overarching aim of this project is to explore the social and environmental risk factors for eating disorder using a re­contactable resource of individuals with a lifetime diagnosis eating disorders. Specifically, this is the UK Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative (EDGI) which launches in Feb 2018 (www.edrr.org.uk) and Charlotte’s Helix, which, together will allow the student to contact >5000 individuals with lived experience of eating disorders. This is modelled on the Genetic Links to Anxiety and Depression project (www.gladstudy.org.uk), which is also led by the primary supervisor.

EDGI has been designed in collaboration with our primary partner, Beat, the UK’s biggest eating disorder charity, who are also our partners on this studentship application. The student would spend 1 day per week at Beat, working with the team. We have previously worked in partnership with a parent ­led eating disorder charity, Charlotte’s Helix (www.charlotteshelix.net), and found that individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are keen to participate in research through online registration, successfully recruiting >1,000 participants with a lifetime diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. In EDGI, our partnership with Beat (www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk), is allowing us to recruit participants with experience of other eating disorders ­­ bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Beat will also help publicise EDGI and host a page about the project on their website and the student will spend 1 day per week working at the Beat offices in London.

Specifically, this project will examine (i) the different associations between social risk factors (e.g. childhood trauma, social media use) and eating disorders diagnosis and severity; (ii) the influence of health seeking behaviour (e.g. exercise) on eating disorder risk; (iii) the influence of social support networks on outcomes; and (iv) does the integration of genetic risk factors add to the prediction of outcomes?