Background. This study sought to identify in white women risk factors specific to binge-eating disorder (BED) and for psychiatric disorders in general, and to compare black and white women on risk factors for BED. Method. A case-control design was used. Participants were recruited from the community and included 162 women who met DSM-IV criteria for BED and two comparison groups of women with no history of clinically significant eating disorder symptoms. The comparison women were matched to BED women on age, education and ethnicity and divided into a healthy comparison (HC) group, who had no current psychiatric disorder, and a psychiatric comparison (PC) group, who had a diagnosis of a DSM-IV Axis I psychiatric disorder. The study sample size was determined by the group with the least members (PC), including 107 women with BED and 214 matched comparison women. A broad range of risk factors was assessed with a Risk Factor Interview and the Parental Bonding Instrument. Results. No significant effects for ethnicity by diagnostic group were found. BED women reported higher exposure to childhood obesity, family overeating or binge-eating, family discord, and high parental demands than PC women. The combined BED and PC group scored significantly higher than the HC group on measures of negative affect, parental mood and substance disorders, perfectionism, separation from parents, and maternal problems with parenting. Conclusions. These findings indicate that childhood obesity and familial eating problems are reliable specific risk factors for BED. Ethnicity does not appear to moderate risk for BED.