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Neurocognitive Outcomes in Children of Mothers with Active or Past Eating Disorders

8 August 2020


Background: Eating Disorders commonly manifest in child-bearing age women, making assessment of potential infant outcomes critical in those born to mothers with active or past disordered eating. Substantial literature outlines potential effects in these infants; however, comparably less research defines the effect a maternal eating disorder may have on infant cognitive and neurobehavioral development.

Methods: An exhaustive literature search using PubMed, Web of Science, and CINAHL via EBSCO-host was conducted. The following search terms were used: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, eating disorder, growth development, head circumference, offspring, neurobehavioral dysregulation, and neurocognitive development. Article references were also searched to assure no relevant studies were overlooked. All articles were screened for relevance and measured against specific eligibility criteria.

Results: The initial literature search produced 104 journal articles for review. After removing duplicate articles, each article was screened for specific outcomes and eligibility. After careful analysis, 2 longitudinal cohort studies qualified for critical appraisal. While the studies assessed different types of neurocognitive outcomes at different periods of child development, both revealed a positive correlation between mothers with past or current eating disorders and child neurocognitive dysfunction.

Conclusion: This review demonstrates maternal current and past eating disorders as significant predictors of decreased infant cognition and neurobehavioral development, specifically in relation to language, motor, and social functioning. Furthermore, it exhibits decreased neurocognition in correlation with smaller head circumference, which may be explained by delayed growth as a result of increased maternal stress, higher cortisol levels, and/or inadequate prenatal maternal nutrition. Additional research is necessary to further understand the extent and exact causes of neurocognitive dysfunction in these infants. In light of the conclusions in these studies, clinicians should enhance maternal eating disorder screening to better prevent and manage negative neurocognitive outcomes of offspring.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, eating disorder, growth development, head circumference, neurobehavioral dysregulation, neurocognitive development


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