Failure‐to‐thrive with no organic etiology: A critical review of the literature

Douglas C. Breunlin, Vajendra J. Desai, Michael E. Stone*, Jo Anne Swilley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


This article is a critical review of the literature pertaining to the syndrome of failure‐to‐thrive w'rth no organic etiology (FTNOE). Following a review of definitions, incidence, criteria for diagnosis, clinical forms, signs and symptoms, five perspectives on the etiology of FTNOE are critiqued. They include: environmental deprivation, maternal deprivation, sensory deprivation, psychosomatic and nutritional. The role of the family with respect to FTNOE is examined next. The main family foci discussed are the functioning of each parent, the relationship between them, mother‐child interaction, and characteristics of the entire family. Where possible, the incidence of key family variables is determined across studies and presented. Treatment approaches are reviewed with particular emphasis on attempts to ameliorate the depriving environment. Follow‐up studies conducted in the hospital and long term follow‐up studies are examined; the latter with particular respect to the effects of FTNOE on cognitive development. Finally, the methodological problems inherent in most of the FTNOE research are discussed and suggestions made for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-49
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1983

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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