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Alison Field, ScD

Alison Field
Medicine Research
Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine Research
Hospital Title:
Associate in Medicine
Academic Title:
Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
Research Focus Area:
Obesity and Eating Disorders
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Research Overview

Dr. Field's research focuses on determining the optimal classification for eating disorders and obesity and identifying the modifiable causes, correlates, consequences, and course of overweight, weight gain, unhealthy eating patterns, bulimic behaviors, and eating disorders among children, adolescents, and adult women. She is a co-founder and former co-Director of the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS), which was established in 1996 to assess the predictors of dietary intake, activity, and weight gain among children and adolescents during a four year period. Her research within the study is primarily related to the epidemiology of weight gain, obesity, weight concerns, bulimic behaviors and eating disorders. She has published extensively on risk factors for developing bulimic behaviors and obesity among the youth in the cohort. Her early research on eating disorders focused on identifying the personal, peer, family, and media influences on starting to binge eating, purge, or develop an eating disorder. These studies were the first and the largest to investigate these associations prospectively. She found that dieting predicts both weight gain and developing disordered eating, which helped to draw attention to the fact that this common behavior among adolescent girls is a cause for concern. In addition, her research on parental influences has highlighted the role of fathers on eating disorders and weight concerns of adolescents.

She has a R01 from NIMH to investigate how eating disorders should be best classified. She has been using data from GUTS, as well as from youth in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a birth cohort in the United Kingdom, to investigate classification. She found that bulimia nervosa (BN) affected approximately 1% of adolescent females; however, another 2-3% purge but do not binge eat (i.e., purging disorder, PD) and another 2-3% binge eat but do not purge (i.e., binge eating disorder, BED). PD is much more common than BN, but is similar to BN in terms of being associated with greater risk of starting to use drugs (odds ratio (OR)=1.7) and starting to binge drink frequently (OR=1.8). She has also found that there is a wider range of presentations of eating disorders among males. She found that although BN and full criteria BED were uncommon among males, more than 7% of young adults males in GUTS were very concerned with muscularity and using potentially unhealthy products (such as Creatine, growth hormone, and steroids) to achieve their desired physique. Her recent paper in JAMA Pediatrics was the first large study to shows the distribution of a range of eating disorders in males and how they relate to the development of adverse outcomes.

She also has a R01 from the NIDDK to continue following the 10,442 participants in the GUTS II cohort to assess the independent and joint associations of intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened coffee drinks) and prepared foods with waist circumference, hypertension, BMI gain and the development of obesity. She has found that sports drinks are a strong predictor of weight gain among adolescent males and females. She is also interested in classification of obesity. In a Viewpoint that she published in JAMA, Dr. Field and her colleagues argued that in an era of personalized or precision medicine it would be prudent for obesity to be broken into meaningful subtypes in order to improve prevention and treatment outcomes. She is currently pursuing obesity classification research using a variety of samples of children, adolescents, and adults.

In addition to her research, Dr. Field is very involved in the Obesity Society. She is a former member of the Council and a former Chair of the Pediatric Section. Also, during her tenure on the Planning Committee (2008-2013)  she established and grew a focus on policy, which is now a distinct track at the annual meeting. Currently she is on the Board of Managers of Obesity Week, a joint meeting of the Obesity Society and  the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. She is also on the Scientific Committee of the Academy for Eating Disorders and Co-directs the Reproductive, Perinatal, and Pediatric Epidemiology area of interest at the Harvard School of Public Health. She is also involved in the Obesity Epidemiology and Prevention Concentration at the Harvard School of Public Health.

About Dr. Field

Alison Field received her ScD from Harvard School of Public Health. In addition to her appointment at Boston Children's Hospital, she is a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and an Associate Epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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