Ever had anorexia nervosa? – Then the world needs you!

A ground-breaking study is looking at the role of genetics in Anorexia Nervosa.

Final days to participate in the genetics of anorexia nervosa research project

If you have ever been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in your lifetime, researchers would welcome your participation in this international study which aims to identify the genes for anorexia nervosa. What does it involve? A team from the University of Otago, Christchurch is recruiting participants for this ground breaking study. If you are interested , please complete this 10 minute survey which asks about some basic descriptive information about you (age, gender etc) and about eating disorder symptoms you have had at any stage.

The direct link to the survey is


You may then be contacted and invited to donate a blood sample for the genetic research. Researchers will arrange a 10 minute skype call to go through the information sheet and witness you providing informed consent.  A blood kit will be posted for you to take to your nearest lab where you go for blood tests.

The study will be concluding in the next 7-10 days.

If you have any questions, please contact Jenny Jordan, Bridget or Wendy at 03 3720400 or jenny.jordan@otago.ac.nz.

Last year, Professor Cynthia Bulik was here to launch the New Zealand arm of the global genetic study into anorexia nervosa. Professor Bulik is the Founding Director of the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders and Professor at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. Many of our clinicians who trained at the University of Otago in the 1990s were lucky enough to train with Dr Bulik when she lived and worked at the Psychology Department at Canterbury University, Christchurch.  You can hear the 10 minute interview on Radio Live by clicking the link below:


According to Professor Bulik it’s high time we started thinking about genetics and anorexia.  This illness is a biologically based mental illness.  These are not wilful behaviours.  There are biological differences in people with AN and eating disorders are highly heritable.  So far, the research has already suggested that there might be autoimmune and metabolic issues in AN and that they are not single gene disorders.

Professor Bulik is part of a global genetic study looking at the role of genes in the development of anorexia nervosa. Most people diet but only a small number of us get hooked into anorexic behaviours.

 “We’re looking for the genes and when we find them we’ll start to understand the environmental triggers”.

If you take 20, 13 year-old girls and put them on a diet, most of them will get bored and irritated with the diet and give up within a few days but for a small number of people, they feel calmer when they are in a ‘negative energy balance’.

“It’s a very destructive lure in, they feel better on it.  It’s regulating a biology that at baseline is very uncomfortable to live with”.

The researchers need a very large sample size (over 13,000 people) to participate in the study and they are encouraging any body in the world who has suffered from anorexia nervosa to be part of their study.  This can be people who have recovered or still in recovery, those who have never sought treatment or are currently in treatment, those who’ve had the disorder for only a few months or those who’ve had it for decades.  It can be boys, girls, men and women of any age.  They want everyone in NZ who has ever had the disorder, to take part in the study.  People in Europe, Scandinavia, North America and Australia are also taking part.

Anorexia nervosa is a very serious disorder with the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.  There is a 5% death rate over five years.  The researchers are hoping that once they can identify the genetic correlations then they can work out a way to calm that biology other than restricting.  We know that early detection and intervention is vital in this disorder.  Being part of this study could help others from ever having to develop AN.

Under age 16, need parental consent.