The complex relationship between obesity and certain EDs, under the spotlight

  • A new study reviews the complex relationship between obesity and eating disorders (EDs), highlighting their common characteristics, shared risk factors and the latest developments in treatment when they coexist.
  • It is essential to integrate an interdisciplinary approach to enable individualised health care for each patient.
Fernando Fernandez_redimensionada

Historically, obesity and EDs have been studied separately. Obesity has always been understood as a purely medical condition, while EDs have fallen into the spectrum of psychiatric-psychological conditions. However, the need for a comprehensive study of both is becoming increasingly apparent due to the multitude of factors they have in common. In recent years a large body of evidence has accumulated showing an increase in the prevalence of certain types of EDs, notably bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, in people with obesity.

Thus, it has been seen that obesity and EDs can frequently appear together and even overlap throughout a person’s life, significantly worsening the patient’s health and the problems that can develop. If separately they are already pathologies that share many risk factors, when they occur together, they create a rather problematic synergy. Not only because of the intrinsic complexity of each one, of mutual influence, but also because of the range of physical, metabolic and mental alterations that accompany them respectively: when they coexist, everything adds up.

Following this line, a team of researchers led by Dr. Fernández-Aranda, head of the Psychoneurobiology of Eating Disorders and Addictive Behaviours group of IDIBELL, head of section of the Psychology Service of the University Hospital of Bellvitge (HUB) and professor at the University of Barcelona (UB), has conducted a comprehensive and joint review of obesity and EDs. In the study, published in Trends in Molecular Medicine, they analyse the similarities and differences between the two conditions from a multidisciplinary perspective. In this sense, they have corroborated the presence of shared genetic, psychological and environmental risk factors in the development of both obesity and ED, and even suggested a possible common neurobiological basis, or at least a similar one. Although the complexity is enormous, they point out that it is essential to continue investigating the underlying mechanisms that could explain their coexistence, in order to have more useful tools for the early detection of susceptible individuals.

The study, which is a collaboration of the European Consortium on Obesity and EDs (EprObes), concludes that obesity and EDs are complex disorders with many shared biopsychosocial factors, and highlights the need to study their interaction in order to develop effective therapeutic strategies in cases of comorbidity. In these cases, beyond the application of multimodal therapies combining psychotherapy, diet and physical activity, special individualised medical care would be necessary, addressing the biological as well as the psychological and social dimensions.




The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.

IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).


Original source

Camacho-Barcia L, Giel KE, Jiménez-Murcia S, Álvarez Pitti J, Micali N, Lucas I, Miranda-Olivos R, Munguia L, Tena-Sempere M, Zipfel S, Fernández-Aranda F. Eating disorders and obesity: bridging clinical, neurobiological, and therapeutic perspectives. Trends Mol Med. 2024 Mar 13:S1471-4914(24)00032-7. doi: 10.1016/j.molmed.2024.02.007.

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