Early childhood adversities and its risk to eating disorders.

Eating Disorders in Young People, PhD Scholarship 2021 - University College London


Supervisors:  Dr Francesca Solmi and Dr Amy Harrison


Lay Summary:


Eating disorders are severe psychiatric disorders that usually emerge in early to mid-adolescence and are becoming more common. Adolescents with eating disorders often have problems regulating or identifying their emotions. They also often present with low mood or anxiety (i.e. internalising symptoms) or conduct problems (i.e. externalising symptoms). To date, very little research has studied whether these difficulties and symptoms are present before the onset of eating disorders. This evidence is necessary to understand whether it is likely that these could be one of the factors causing eating disorders, as opposed to some of their symptoms. There is also no research that has investigated whether genetic predisposition for an eating disorder leads to difficulties regulating emotions, as well as internalising and externalising symptoms in childhood. This would suggest that these could be early signs of eating disorder risk, which could be a target for intervention. 


This project will explore these questions using a range of data sources: from large longitudinal general population cohort studies, such as the Millennium Cohort Study (18,000 UK children born in 2001-2002), to primary care data on approximately 20,000 people with a diagnosed eating disorder and 80,000 controls. Taken together, evidence from this research will help to inform preventative strategies in childhood and to understand potential targets for intervention. This programme will also train a new researcher in eating disorder epidemiology, an important area which is currently largely neglected. 


Scientific goal: 


To investigate the role of emotion regulation, and internalising and externalising symptoms in the aetiology of eating disorders and eating disorder symptoms.




There are three areas the student could investigate: (1) Explore the longitudinal association between emotion dysregulation, and internalising and externalising symptoms in childhood and, and disordered eating behaviours and eating disorders in adolescence; (2) Identify the trajectories of emotional and behavioural difficulties that are associated with later eating disorders diagnoses and symptoms in order to identify key developmental stages when these behaviours are associated with increased eating disorders risk; (3) Investigate whether emotion dysregulation, and internalising and externalising symptoms might represent phenotypical manifestations of genetic risk for eating disorders.

Research Student: Jane Hahn

Hi, my name is Jane. I’m starting my PhD at University College London Division of Psychiatry in October 2021.  

I obtained my BA in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oxford, and I completed an MSc in Clinical Mental Health Sciences from UCL. I started working with longitudinal population data as a part of the MSc and developed a keen interest for psychiatric epidemiology. During my time as a research assistant in the UCL Division of Psychiatry, I started investigating how demographic characteristics may affect eating disorder presentation in primary care. I am passionate about exploring risk factors for eating disorders that inform preventative and accessible public interventions.