More than half of adolescent girls and nearly a third of adolescent boys all participate in unhealthy weight control behaviors, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. A new study suggests that many children who are at risk for developing an eating disorder have a higher IQ and better working memory, but suffer from poor attentional control.

Researchers from the University of Bristol studied more than 6,000 children at the age of eight and 10. Researchers observed the children's working memory at eight and then their inhibition at 10.

The study revealed that compared to children who were classified as low risk, the children who were high risk were found to have a better working memory and a higher IQ. The term working memory refers to the brain's ability to hold and process necessary information, while suppressing irrelevant information.

In contrast, the high risk group was found to lack attentional control. Attentional control refers to what an individual chooses to pay attention to and what they ignore. Those with poor attentional control were less likely to stop a well-learned response in a test where they were encouraged to say the opposite of what they would normally say. Furthermore, children who have a family member suffering from bulimia were less likely to do well in tasks involving assembling an object.

Study author Radha Kothari said, "Cognitive differences have been observed in patients with eating disorders, but by looking at children at an early age when they had not yet developed an eating disorder, we could rule out the confounding effects of poor diet on the brain. This meant we could focus on characteristics that might increase the risk of developing an eating disorder, rather than characteristics which might be the result of an eating disorder. "

Lead study author Dr. Nadia Micali believes more research is needed to clarify these results.

This study was published in the journal Psychological Medicine.