What are the Reasons for Food Avoidance and Restriction among Adults?

Health, Fitness & Food

The pattern of food avoidance and restriction is cause for concern and researchers have begun to investigate ARFID among several types of patients.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is becoming more prevalent. With the introduction of ARFID, there is an increased need to understand the prevalence and patterns of food avoidance and restriction in adults. Eating disorders were in the past usually related to children and adolescents, but have now become more inclusive with adults also being observed to have this disorder. High rates of food allergy and intolerance in immunology clinic populations and subsequent high rates of elimination diets place these individuals at a greater risk of developing pathological eating behaviors.

In a cross-sectional pilot study conducted among the Sydney, Australian population, researchers were successful in providing preliminary data collected from adults that explored the reasons for this prevalence in behavior regarding food avoidance and restriction. Their study was published in the Journal of Eating Disorders. This descriptive study provided preliminary data on the prevalence and nature of food avoidance and restriction in the adult population and explored the reasons for this behavior.

The researchers designed and subsequently administered a questionnaire over a six-month period (June to September 2015) to adults who attended an immunology clinic or a general practice. The questions were designed to collect data that could describe the prevalence and nature of avoidant and restrictive eating behaviors. A total of 102 participants, 69% female and 31% male, between 18 and 79 years completed the questionnaire

An analysis of the data revealed that there is a potential link to a formal diagnosis of ARFID in immunology patients. Data analysis showed food avoidance or restriction affected 81 of the respondents (79%). There were no significant higher rates revealed for the immunology clinic patients when compared to the general practice patients. The data revealed that there was disturbed eating patterns of food allergy and intolerance. In 26% of the respondents, secondary life impacts also caused food avoidance and restriction, which was mostly seen in the immunology clinic patients. Observations over time from immunology clinic patients revealed high rates of food allergy and intolerance and subsequent restriction in diets. These individuals were therefore at greater risk of developing pathological eating behaviors.

This important study was the first of its kind to examine eating disturbances similar to ARFID in adults, with all other studies relating to children and adolescents.  The study concluded that food avoidance, as characterized by ARFID is now very common in adults. Food allergy and intolerance may result in food avoidance and restriction. This is the main reason of causality for eating pattern disorders, which was particularly seen in this study among the immunology clinic patient population. The researchers identify a need for future studies in adults to examine the relationship between food intolerances, immunology, and pathological eating disorders in order to increase our understanding of ARFID.

Written by Dr. Mo’nique J. Grant Coke, DNP, MPH, BSN. Medical Writer.  


Fitzgerald, M & Frankum, B. (2017). Food avoidance and restriction in adults: a cross-sectional pilot study comparing patients from an immunology clinic to a general practice. Journal of Eating Disorders. DOI 10.1186/s40337-017-0160-4

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