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Eating Disorders Afflict One in 14 Pregnant Women

Eating disorders during pregnancy are often left untreated due to stigma, says a UK study.

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A secret struggle for many women. Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise

03/19/13

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One in 14 women have an eating disorder during the first three months of pregnancy, according to a new study by University College London (UCL). Researchers surveyed over 700 pregnant women and found 25% were “highly concerned about their weight and shape.” One in 12 pregnant woman said they would overeat or lose control over their eating habits at least twice a week. And 2% said they fasted, exercised excessively, induced vomiting or misused laxatives or diuretics to avoid gaining weight. “There is good evidence from our research that eating disorders in pregnancy can affect both the mother and the developing baby,” says study leader Dr. Nadia Micali, of the UCL Institute of Child Health. Experts say that most prenatal eating disorders are left untreated. "Women with eating disorders are often reluctant to disclose their illness to healthcare professionals, possibly due to a fear of stigma or fear that health services might respond in a negative way,” says Dr. Abigail Easter, also of the UCL Institute of Child Health. "Typical pregnancy symptoms such as weight gain and vomiting can also mask the presence of an eating disorder. Many women with eating disorders may therefore go undetected and untreated during pregnancy." The researchers say that screening women for eating disorders at their first prenatal check-up could make a difference. "Greater awareness of eating disorders and their symptoms amongst antenatal health care professionals would help to better identify and manage such disorders amongst pregnant women," says Micali. About 1.4 million women in the UK struggle with an eating disorder, about 4% of the female population.

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