Health Advice



University is mapping the genetics of eating disorders to develop better treatments

By Zachery Eanes, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in Health & Fitness

Bulik said it will be important for EDGI to get a very diverse sample of volunteers. She hopes to complete the collection portion of the study by 2022.

The research is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The genetic samples will be collected via a saliva kit in the mail, and then be processed at a lab in Chapel Hill.

The study will build off a previous one that focused specifically on anorexia nervosa. Bulik said that study had transformational findings, identifying eight areas of the genome with significant associations with anorexia nervosa. Finding evidence for those associations, she said, helps reduce misunderstandings around the illness.

"These are serious illnesses with genetic bases, and we need to bust those myths about them being a choice," Bulik said. "One of the things that this research does is bust those myths. We can say with complete confidence that genes are involved."

That previous research only studied around 17,000 participants, and Bulik said the data would be much more reliable with a larger pool of volunteers.


By expanding the research to include other eating disorders, EDGI could determine if certain genetics predispose someone to multiple illnesses, or whether they all have unique causes.

"My gut says and preliminary information shows that there might be some shared genetic factors across all three disorders, but also unique genetic factors associated with them that decides the path (of treatment) you go down," she said. "There is not a clear demarcation between these disorders. People will toggle back and forth between anorexia and bulimia. They are not mutually exclusive."

EDGI is looking for participants who are 18 years or over and have, at any point in their lives, experienced anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder. To volunteer or learn more, visit

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