The causes of eating disorders are complex and most professionals believe that environmental and genetic (biological) factors interact in order to trigger the development of an eating disorder. A research study by professionals at Michigan State University and the University of Minnesota has looked at the interaction of genetics and parental divorce to see if this specific interaction puts people at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder.
Previous research has found that there are higher rates of parental divorce for people who have bulimia nervosa than those in the general population. Research has also shown that stressful life events often precede the development of an eating disorder. However, this is one of the first studies to examine how divorce interacts with genetics.
In order to look at this interaction, researchers administered questionnaires on disordered eating symptoms to over 2,000 pairs of twins. However, the results showed that the only symptom of disordered eating that was associated with parental divorce was body dissatisfaction.
There are certainly limitations to this study in that it looked at a general population of twins rather than specifically seeking out a clinical population of eating disorder patients. It also didn't examine other stressful factors that often surround parental divorce, such as parental fighting. These other factors may have more to do with the triggering of symptoms than the actual divorce itself.
If you have an eating disorder and your parents are divorced, do you think it triggered it?
Suisman, J.L., Burt, S.A., McGue, M., Iacono, W.G., & Klump, K.L. (2011). Parental divorce and disordered eating: An investigation of a gene-environment interaction. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 44(2). 169-177.