Study Confirms Anorexia-Perfectionism Link

ByABC News
November 17, 2000, 3:09 PM

N E W   Y O R K, Nov. 17 -- Nobodys perfect, but anorexics think they should be, according to a new study that confirms what many eating disorder experts have long suspected.

In the largest study of its kind, an international group of researchers, led by Dr. Katherine Halmi of the Eating Disorders Program of New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, examined the relationship between anorexia and perfectionism in 322 women from the United States and Europe. She concluded the extent of perfectionism was directly associated with the severity of victims anorexia nervosa.

Linking perfectionism and anorexia could help researchers establish if there is a genetic trait that predisposes a person to eating disorders, explains Dr. Suzanne Sunday, an assistant professor of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian and one of the studys co-authors. A lot of the evidence [linking perfectionism and anorexia] is anecdotal, she says. Now we have hard data in a very large sample.

In order to find a genetic susceptibility for anorexia, researchers sought patients with relatives who also suffered from eating disorders, and enlisted both in the study. Participants responded to questions on three different standardized tests related to eating disorders, perfectionism and motivation to change.The study was published in the November issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Perfectionism is present commonly in the backgrounds of persons with anorexia nervosa, suggesting its role as a predisposing personality trait, study co-author Dr. Michael Strober, director of the Eating Disorders Program at UCLA School of Medicine, said in an e-mail to It is suspected that this personality trait may be a marker of genetic risk factors.

Perfectionism may be a flag for susceptibility to anorexia, but whether anorexia is genetic or environmental, or a mixture of both, remains an open question. In a follow-up study, the scientists will look for possible correlations between the patients behavior and their genetics.