Investigating direct links between depression, emotional control, and physical punishment with adolescent drive for thinness and bulimic behaviors, including possible moderation by the serotonin transporter 5-HTTLPR polymorphism

Vanja Rozenblat, Joanne Ryan, Eleanor H. Wertheim, Ross King, Craig A Olsson, Isabel Krug

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Objectives: To examine the relationship between psychological and social factors (depression, emotional control, sexual abuse, and parental physical punishment) and adolescent drive for Thinness and Bulimic behaviors in a large community sample, and to investigate possible genetic moderation. Method: Data were drawn from the Australian Temperament Project (ATP), a population-based cohort study that has followed a representative sample of 2443 participants from infancy to adulthood across 16 waves since 1983. A subsample of 650 participants (50.2% female) of Caucasian descent who provided DNA were genotyped for a serotonin transporter promoter polymorphism (5-HTTLPR). Adolescent disordered eating attitudes and behaviors were assessed using the Bulimia and Drive for Thinness scales of the Eating Disorder Inventory-2 (15–16 years). Depression and emotional control were examined at the same age using the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire, and an ATP-devised measure of emotional control. History of sexual abuse and physical punishment were assessed retrospectively (23–24 years) in a subsample of 467 of those providing DNA. Results: EDI-2 scores were associated with depression, emotional control, and retrospectively reported parental physical punishment. Although there was statistically significant moderation of the relationship between parental physical punishment and bulimic behaviors by 5-HTTLPR (p = 0.0048), genotypes in this subsample were not in Hardy–Weinberg Equilibrium. No other G×E interactions were significant. Conclusion: Findings from this study affirm the central importance of psychosocial processes in disordered eating patterns in adolescence. Evidence of moderation by 5-HTTLPR was not conclusive; however, genetic moderation observed in a subsample not in Hardy–Weinberg Equilibrium warrants further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1361
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberAUG
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • 5-HTTLPR
  • Depression
  • Disordered eating
  • Emotional control
  • Gene–environment interactions
  • Parental physical punishment

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