Does Religiosity Increase Risk of Anorexia?

Various forms of fasting and self-starvation have been associated with religious practices for thousands of years. A new study investigates if these practices could increase the risk of anorexia nervosa in the 21st century.

“Many medieval saints fasted themselves to death. The most famous of them was St. Catherine of Siena,” said Associate Professor Anna Keski-Rahkonen from the University of Helsinki, Finland, who led the recent study.

“But nobody has looked into this issue in any systematic way. We wanted to examine whether religiosity is associated with a higher risk of anorexia nervosa in modern women.”

The researchers report that this is the first study to examine the potential connection between religiosity and anorexia nervosa in a nationwide setting.

Findings are reported in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

For the study, investigators at the University of Helsinki followed almost 3,000 women from the Finnish Twin Cohorts from the age 16 until their mid-20s.

“We found that religiosity does not appear to be a central factor in the development of anorexia nervosa in Finland, a highly secularized Christian country,” said Dr. Pyry Sipilä, who analyzed the data and authored the article.

“Being raised in a highly religious family is also not associated with an increased risk of anorexia nervosa.”

“However, it is important to note that extreme religiosity is quite rare in Finland and many Protestants don’t observe Lent. Ideally, this study should be repeated in a country where fasting during religious festivals is very common.”

Nevertheless, Sipilä has some further good news: “There is a possibility that religiosity might have a small positive effect on body image.”

Source: University of Helsinki