Sex Differences in Adolescent Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa: Beyond the Signs and Symptoms

  • C. Alix TimkoEmail author
  • Levi DeFilipp
  • Antonios Dakanalis
Sex and Gender Issues in Behavioral Health (CN Epperson and L Hantsoo, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Sex and Gender Issues in Behavioral Health


Purpose of Review

We review research related to sex differences in eating disorders (EDs) in adolescents. Prior work has explored clinical differences; thus, we examine literature in areas identified as playing an etiological or maintenance role in EDs including: genetics, hormones, neurocognitive inefficiencies, and reward circuitry.

Recent Findings

Sex steroids appear to a play role in the unmasking of genetic risk for development of EDs and puberty may be a heightened period of risk for females. While neurocognitive differences have been well studied in adults with ED, research with adolescents has been less conclusive. Recent work suggests that neural circuitry involved in reward and punishment may play role in development and maintenance of EDs in females. Males are underrepresented in these areas of research.


Given known sex differences in healthy adolescents, it is likely there are sex differences in the putative biological etiology/maintenance of EDs. Males should be included in future research.


Eating disorders Anorexia nervosa Bulimia nervosa Sex differences Adolescents Neurobiology Reward circuitry Gonadal hormones 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Levi DeFilipp and Antonios Dakanalis declare no conflict of interest. C. Alix Timko is supported by 5K12HD085848 (PI: N. Epperson).

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Alix Timko
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Levi DeFilipp
    • 2
  • Antonios Dakanalis
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, Perelman School of MedicineUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral ScienceRobert’s Center for Pediatric ResearchPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Medicine and SurgeryUniversity of Milano BicoccaMonzaItaly

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