From Adolescence to Adulthood

Published: August 6, 2013

My journey to the Bulik Lab started in Austin, Texas at the 2012 ICED Conference. Though I had heard a lot about the Bulik Lab from my Norwegian colleagues prior to the conference, Cindy and her crew persuaded me to plan a year of overseas research as a part of my PhD training. Even though my wife and I only moved to the “Southern Part of Heaven,” (Chapel Hill, NC) last December, we are now the proud parents of a little boy, Mikias, who was born at the UNC Women’s Hospital in February.

My PhD research aims to provide new knowledge about longitudinal pathways and risk factors of eating problems from early adolescence to young adulthood among Norwegian females and males. Studies are needed to obtain more knowledge about developmental pathways to disturbed eating and to inform preventive efforts and early intervention.

So far, I (with my co-authors and supervisors) have published two papers (1; 2) that describe the developmental trends of bulimic symptoms, binge eating, and compensatory behavior (CB). The third paper (still under review) explains gender- and developmental-specific risk factors of disordered eating behaviors and attitudes. In all of our papers, male respondents are included in the analyses, and we can examine similarities and differences in risk factors of eating problems and developmental profiles of such problems between males and females.

In general, the main findings indicate that bulimic symptoms among young women increase from age 14 to 16 and decline slowly thereafter. Among young men, bulimic symptoms decrease between ages 14 to 16 but return in the early twenties. Young women had higher levels of bulimic symptoms than males at every age (1), and were at higher risk of engaging in purging behaviors, with purging being particularly related to serious symptoms of psychosocial problems (2). When researching gender-specific risk factors for disordered eating, we found that parental overprotectiveness was more strongly related to disordered eating among females, whereas loneliness was a stronger predictor for adolescent males (under-review paper). Overall, the findings provide support for both shared- and specific developmental pathways and risk factors for eating problems between males and females from adolescence to young adulthood. Our results may have implications for selective as well as universal prevention interventions.

These three papers will form the basis of my doctoral thesis, which will be submitted at the end of this year. It has been a great privilege for me to be a part of the Bulik Lab and to be given the opportunity to gain the practical knowledge and experience that I need to become a successful PhD candidate. Special thanks to Cindy Bulik, Stephanie Zerwas and Ann Von Holle!

1. Abebe DS, Lien L, Torgersen L, von Soest T. Binge eating, purging and non-purging compensatory behaviours decrease from adolescence to adulthood: A population-based, longitudinal study. BMC Public Health 2012;12:32.

2. Abebe DS, Lien L, von Soest T. The development of bulimic symptoms from adolescence to young adulthood in females and males: A population-based longitudinal cohort study. Int J Eat Disord 2012;45:737-745.