Dr. Cynthia Bulik, William R. and Jeanne H. Jordan Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina, spoke forcefully at yesterday's US Congressional Briefing organized by the Eating Disorders Coalition.

Bulik gave a 20-minute talk that could, if widely available, change the way society - and patients - look at eating disorders.

The research she cites is well-established, but still controversial among clinicians treating the illness.

In the past, Bulik told Congressional staff, eating disorders were wrongly blamed on families, on the individual, or on society. These causes seemed plausible. But "plausibility is just too convenient."

 "These are not disorders of choice."

Genetic relatives of eating disorder patients have a 7-12 times greater risk of also having an eating disorder.

"The major contributor is genetics. Not family environment, not choice."

Why does this matter? Bulik thinks it matters a great deal:

  • Because it destigmatizes the illness
  • Because it means we can, and should, mention eating disorders whenever we talk about other mental illness
  • Because it empowers parents and sufferers
  • Because this knowledge improves treatment and insurance coverage Because it underscores the seriousness of the illness
  • Because genetics research needs research dollars.

Bulik has in recent months identified enough genetic samples "already in the freezer" for genome-wide eating disorder studies that she believes could revolutionize the way eating disorders are understood and treated.

"We are in the middle of a landmark year in genetics," Bulik said. "Funding is the only obstacle."