A large study (over 12,000 participants) conducted by Nadia Micali and colleagues in Britain assessed functioning and well-being of mothers-to-be at a prenatal visit (about 12 weeks into the pregnancy). Over time, their children were tracked as well (when they were seven, ten, and thirteen).
The findings of this study were that mothers who had a history of eating disorders before the pregnancy had children that were more likely to report psychiatric disorders between ages seven and thirteen. The children seemed especially at risk of emotional problems, anxiety in particular.
One limitation is that the amount of time that had elapsed since a woman met criteria for an eating disorder wasn’t factored in. However, the study had many strengths, including the fact that it was large-scale study, prospectively tracking outcomes of maternal eating disorder history on children over 13 years. As a result, it has important implications. Children of women with a history of eating disorders may need to be identified and targeted for secondary prevention efforts. Additionally, effective secondary prevention efforts will need to be established in order to help these children who are vulnerable for mental health challenges of their own.
Micali, N., De Stavola, B., Ploubidis, G., Simonoff, E., & Treasure, J. The effects of maternal eating disorders on offspring childhood and early adolescent psychiatric disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 47, 385-393.