The causes of anorexia are varied and complex including biological, psychiatric, social and cultural factors. However, research suggests that 50% of the risk for anorexia may be due to inherited factors. Although parental mental-health problems are thought to play a part few studies have looked into this and it is hard to know whether it is the anorexia of their children that causes parental mental-health problems or vice versa. A study of 60 adolescent girls with eating disorders and their parents, carried out by researchers at Stanford University, California found that both fathers and mothers reported greater levels of obsessive-compulsive behaviour, hostility*, depression and anxiety. The longer the anorexia lasted the more hostile the fathers were and the worse the symptoms the more hostile the mothers were. However, there was no relationship between the severity of the parents' mental-health problems and the severity of the children's eating disorders suggesting that it was the eating disorders that caused the mental-health problems and not parents' mental-health problems that caused the eating disorders.
Ravi, Sheila ... [et al] - Is there a relationship between parental self-reported psychopathology and symptom severity in adolescents with anorexia nervosa? Eating Disorders January-February 2009, 17(1), 63-71
*For a definition of hostility see