A study carried out by the University’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics has concluded that there is “clear evidence” that babies born in spring are more likely to develop anorexia later in life.
The results, which used information concerning 1,293 anorexia sufferers, showed as many as 15 percent more cases than would be expected in subjects born in the months February to June, while there are as many as 30 percent fewer cases than expected amongst those born September to October.
The findings come in the wake of a number of studies linking springtime births to other psychological conditions including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression, though the study does not suggest what the cause of this trend might be.
Lahiru Handunnetthi, a doctoral student at the Wellcome Trust who led the team of researchers, told The Independent last Thursday: “During the last trimester of pregnancy, neuronal development takes place, so it may be that maternal nutrition has an impact on the development of psychiatric and neurological disorders.”
Mr Handunnetthi also suggested that Vitamin D deficiencies in pregnant mothers “might be one of the leading factors” in bringing about this trend, with the NHS suggesting that as much as 60 percent of the UK population might be Vitamin D deficient in the months following winter. Mr Handunnetthi said: “The vitamin D hypothesis has been gaining a lot of weight in other neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis”.
However, Dr Terence M. Dovey, a lecturer at the Centre for Research into Eating Disorders at Loughborough University, said that although the study was “not bad”, it was “very simple, looking at one very small and just significant epidemiological question”, and said it “has little relevance to the condition or treatment of anorexia”. Dr Dovey summarised: “Thanks to this paper, I now know that I will be 60 percent right in the assertion that any given anorexia patient in front of me will be born between February and June.”
An Oxford undergraduate and former anorexia sufferer (born in mid-winter), who wished to remain anonymous, said: “For me it never seemed so much something physical, but more of an environmental thing.”
When asked if she thought the study was a worthwhile one, she said that anorexia is a “real and current problem” in the UK, and “more effort should go into studies that can actually make a difference to the young people out there who are suffering right now”.