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Low Birth Weight in the Offspring of Women With Anorexia Nervosa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-56
Number of pages8
JournalEpidemiologic Reviews
Issue number1

King's Authors


A growing body of literature has investigated the association between maternal anorexia nervosa and pregnancy outcomes. Infant low birth weight is associated with a number of neurodevelopmental and physical sequelae; however, consistent results on its association with maternal anorexia nervosa are scant. Therefore, a systematic review and meta-analysis of the existing literature were undertaken. PubMed, Embase, and PsychInfo were searched for studies comparing the mean birth weight of babies delivered by mothers with (a history of) anorexia nervosa against those of healthy mothers. Studies were excluded from the meta-analysis if not presenting data from an unexposed comparison group and if using multiple eating disorders as exposure without presenting individual results. Fourteen studies were included in the systematic review and 9 in the meta-analysis, undertaken between 1999 and 2012 in Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Birth weights were standardized by dividing the difference in mean birth weight by the pooled standard deviation (equivalent to Cohen's d). Results showed a standardized mean difference of -0.19 g (95% confidence interval: -0.25, -0.15; P = 0.01) in the birth weight of children of mothers with anorexia nervosa, and some bias in favor of papers presenting lower birth weight results for exposed mothers was detected. However, the small power of the analysis due to the small number of available studies and, thus, chance could partially account for this result. Our results confirm that maternal anorexia nervosa predicts lower birth weight and, despite some limitations, they have important clinical implications for prevention of adverse child outcomes.

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