Does an eating disorder make you more likely to steal?

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Eating disorders have been associated with a number of issues that can be dangerous to your health, including excessive exercise behaviors, physical side-effects, and additional mental health issues. However, a new study has tied eating disorders to another unique behavior – crime.

According to a study of almost 960,000 women, those with eating disorders are more than twice as likely to be convicted of theft or other crimes.

By evaluating data collected from a large pool of women, a team of international researchers discovered that approximately 12 percent of those living with anorexia and 18 percent of women with bulimia were convicted of theft, compared to just 5 percent of women without a history of eating disorders.

There was also a notable increase in other crimes for bulimic women. The report published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders says that 13 percent of women with bulimia committed crimes other than theft, compared to 7 percent of anorexic women and 6 percent of those without an eating disorder.

As Yahoo points out, this is not the first study to uncover a correlation between eating disorders and criminality or incarceration. Research conducted in Japan and published earlier this year concluded that more severe cases of eating disorders combined with lower socioeconomic standing seem to have “a serious impact on shoplifting behavior.”

Another Japanese study found similar results while ruling out other possible contributing factors like substance abuse, sexual deviation, or self-injury.

“While shoplifting is of concern in relation to eating disorders, a causal relationship remains unclear,” wrote the study authors from Nippon Medical School and Kyoto University. And while the inmates in the shoplifting category did not have histories of antisocial or impulsive behaviors — such as drug abuse, sexual deviation, and self-injury — or other criminal activity, the researchers surmised that “shoplifting appears to be an obsessive-compulsive behavior deeply rooted in the psychopathology of severe eating disorder patients.”

The researchers behind the latest study say research on this topic is still in relatively early stages and more work is needed to determine if there is a direct relationship between criminality and eating disorders. Still, they believe the results encourage clinicians to be proactive when treating those with eating disorders.

“Our results highlight forensic issues as an adversity associated with eating disorders,” stated lead study author Shuyang Yao in a press release. “Criminal convictions can compound disease burden and complicate treatment. Clinicians should be sure to conduct routine reviews of criminal history during assessments for eating disorders.”

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