Research led by Dr Helen Bould from the Oxfordshire CAMHS community services and the Oxford University Department of Psychiatry has found that the school a girl attends can affect her chances of being diagnosed with an eating disorder: those attending a schools with a higher proportion of girls, as well as high proportions of university-educated parents, were more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Speaking to the Oxford University News Office, Dr Bould said: ‘Eating disorders have an enormous effect on the lives of young people who suffer from them – it is important to understand the risk factors so that we can address them.’

‘Unfortunately, this study can’t tell us what it is about schools that affects the rates of eating disorders: it might be an unintentional effect of the aspirational culture of some schools that makes eating disorders more likely; it might be that eating disorders are contagious and can spread within a school. On the other hand, it could be that some schools are better than others at identifying eating disorders in their students and ensuring they get diagnosed and treated.’

The study used data routinely collected data in Sweden to track factors that might make someone more likely to develop an eating disorder. Even after accounting for these factors, there were still differences in the rates of eating disorder according to the school attended.

The study was carried out by a research team including scientists from Oxford University, UCL, the University of Bristol, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

The study is published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. For more information, please also see the Oxford University news item.