A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Summer, 2022 | Number 3, Volume 36

Association seen between orthorexia nervosa, autistic traits

University students with elevated levels of autistic traits are more likely to have elevated levels of orthorexia nervosa (ON) symptoms, according to a study from Italy. 

ON is a condition characterized by an abnormal fixation on and obsession with healthy eating. Individuals with ON tend to follow very restrictive diets, progressively excluding more and more foods and focusing so much attention on their diets that they restrict their social lives and sometimes even damage their own health. While not recognized by the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, ON is considered to fall on the spectrum of eating disorders. 

In the new study, Liliana Dell’Osso and colleagues asked 2,140 university students to fill out two self-reports: the AdAS Spectrum, which measures autistic traits, and the ORTO-R, which measures ON traits. The researchers found that participants with elevated levels of autistic traits reported significantly higher levels of ON symptoms compared to subjects with low autistic traits. ON scores were higher among women and among vegetarians and vegans than among men and omnivores. While ORTOR scores rose with an increase in AdAS Spectrum scores for both genders, the rise was more pronounced among females. 

Prior research has found a higher rate of a different eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, among individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), particularly among females. Dell’Osso and colleagues say their new findings suggest that “the overlap between autism and eating disorder spectra among females may extend also to ON.”


“Investigating orthorexia nervosa with the ORTO-R in a sample of university students with or without subthreshold autism spectrum: focus on dietary habits and gender differences,” Liliana Dell’Osso, Ivan Mirko Cremone, Ilaria Chiarantini, Alessandro Arone, Danila Casagrande, Gabriele Massimetti, Claudio Carmassi, and Barbara Carpita, Frontiers in Psychiatry, July 14, 2022 (free online). Address: Barbara Carpita, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy, [email protected].