Advanced paternal age at birth: Phenotypic and etiologic associations with eating pathology in offspring

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Psychological Medicine





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Background Advanced paternal age at birth has been linked to several psychiatric disorders in offspring (e.g. schizophrenia) and genetic mechanisms are thought to underlie these associations. This study is the first to investigate whether advanced paternal age at birth is associated with eating disorder risk using a twin study design capable of examining both phenotypic and genetic associations.

Method In a large, population-based sample of female twins aged 8–17 years in mid-puberty or beyond (n = 1722), we investigated whether advanced paternal age was positively associated with disordered eating symptoms and an eating disorder history [i.e. anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN) or binge eating disorder (BED)] in offspring. Biometric twin models examined whether genetic and/or environmental factors underlie paternal age effects for disordered eating symptoms.

Results Advanced paternal age was positively associated with disordered eating symptoms and an eating disorder history, where the highest level of pathology was observed in offspring born to fathers ≥40 years old. The results were not accounted for by maternal age at birth, body mass index (BMI), socio-economic status (SES), fertility treatment or parental psychiatric history. Twin models indicated decreased genetic, and increased environmental, effects on disordered eating with advanced paternal age.

Conclusions Advanced paternal age increased risk for the full spectrum of eating pathology, independent of several important covariates. However, contrary to leading hypotheses, environmental rather than genetic factors accounted for paternal age–disordered eating associations. These data highlight the need to explore novel (potentially environmental) mechanisms underlying the effects of advanced paternal age on offspring eating disorder risk.


Advanced paternal age; Disordered eating; Eating disorders; Environmental; Genetic; Twin study


Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Medicine and Health Sciences | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatric and Mental Health | Psychiatry and Psychology | Psychological Phenomena and Processes




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