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World’s Largest Eating Disorders Genetics Study

by Soraya Alcalá
eating disorder EMEDIA Pixabay

US researchers seeking 6,000+ participants for world’s largest eating disorders genetics study


University of North Carolina (UNC) researchers are seeking more than 6,000 participants aged 18 years and
over, with first-hand experience of eating disorders to enroll in the world’s largest ever genetic research study
into three complex, devastating mental illnesses.

The ground-breaking Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative (EDGI) aims to identify the hundreds of genes that
influence a person’s risk of developing anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder,
to improve treatment, and ultimately save lives.

According to recent survey results evaluating the impact of COVID-19 on Americans living with eating disorders performed by EDGI Principal Investigator, Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, UNC, Professor Cynthia Bulik and her research team, support for those with eating disorders is more crucial than ever, given two-in-three survey respondents expressed concerns about their mental well-being.1


“Individuals with current, or past experience of an eating disorder face unique risks due to the current pandemic.1 While COVID-19 related factors, including the effects of quarantining, lack of clear information, and fear of infection, will influence the broader community’s mental health,2 they are likely to further impact those battling pre-existing mental illnesses, such as eating disorders.3,4

“Our new data show that over two-thirds are worried about the impact of the pandemic on their mental health – even more than are worried about the impact of COVID-19 on their physical health (46 percent),”1 said Prof Bulik.

EDGI is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and follows the ground-breaking advances made recently through the collaborative Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI), which revealed both psychiatric and metabolic origins of anorexia nervosa, explaining why people living with the disorder struggle to gain weight, despite their best efforts. The study further identified eight regions on the genome significantly associated with the illness.5

“Our new study, EDGI, offers us a unique opportunity to further investigate the complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors that contribute to eating disorders, in order to improve diagnosis, management and treatment – an endeavor that is evidently even more critical during the current pandemic,” Prof Bulik said.

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that for some, can lead to severe and permanent physical complications, and even death.6,7 While various studies have explored one’s genetic predisposition to developing an eating disorder, only a handful of the responsible genes have been identified to date, leaving many more to be found.

“We are inviting all Americans, aged 18 and over, with first-hand experience of an eating disorder, to participate in this important genetics study,” said Prof Bulik.

Participants need to be aged 18 years and over and have currently, or at any point in their lives experienced anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder.

Those wishing to volunteer for, or learn more about EDGI, can visit www.edgi.org

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