These graphs on eating disorders show the prevalence of these conditions. Although it may appear that eating disorders are not very common, they are serious, often life-threatening disorders. Individuals with anorexia and bulimia nervosa are at an increased risk for suicide, which is part of what makes eating disorders so deadly. Sufferers are also at higher risk of dying from physical health complications related to starvation or related behaviors such as purging.
All eating disorders are associated with serious, chronic health conditions. For these reasons, early identification and intervention are key to recovery, and those suffering and seeking treatment should be assessed regularly for suicide risk as part of treatment by a qualified mental health professional. Sufferers should also be followed by a medical doctor who is familiar with eating disorders.
Anorexia nervosa is a condition in which a person does not eat enough to sustain normal body weight and experiences fear related to gaining weight or becoming fat. About .9 percent of women and .3 percent of men will develop anorexia nervosa in their lifetime1. This disorder is most common in young women, and in any given year, about 0.4 percent of young women will be diagnosed with anorexia(2).
Anorexia nervosa often develops in response to a stressful life event, such as going off to college, though many other factors (temperamental, biological, and environmental) play a role in the development of anorexia nervosa.
Bulimia nervosa is a condition in which a person binges (eating large amounts of food in a short period of time) and then attempts to avoid gaining weight by making herself or himself vomit, misusing laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or exercising excessively. Bulimia nervosa occurs more frequently than anorexia nervosa, with 1.5 percent of women and 0.5 percent of men developing bulimia in their lifetime1. In any given year, 1-1.5 percent of people will be diagnosed with bulimia nervosa(2).
This disorder is more common in women, but men develop bulimia more often than anorexia(1). Bulimia typically occurs in adolescence or young adulthood(2).
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Binge eating disorder is a condition in which a person binge eats but does not vomit or use other methods to prevent gaining weight after a binge. As you can see from these graphs on eating disorders, binge eating disorder is the most commonly occurring eating disorder, with 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men diagnosed in their lifetime(1). In any given year, 1.6 percent of females and 0.8 percent of males will be living with BED(2).
BED is as common among women from racial or ethnic minority groups as for white women(2). BED is often seen in people with severe obesity(1,3), and up to 30 percent of people seeking bariatric surgery or other interventions for weight loss are suffering from BED(4). However, BED occurs in normal weight, overweight, and obese individuals. BED is more common in women, but men tend to binge eat as frequently as women(1).
Eating Disorder Charts
Be sure to realize that, while some people are at greater risk of developing eating disorders, anyone can develop one.
Special Consideration Should Be Given to the Following Groups
For the following groups, eating disorders may be more common than in the general population or they may be more likely to be overlooked. For these reasons, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disorders in these groups.
ADOLESCENTS – Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa typically develop in the adolescent years. About 0.3 percent of adolescents will develop anorexia nervosa, 0.9 percent will develop bulimia nervosa, and 1.9 percent will develop binge eating disorder in their lifetime(5). In addition to eating disorders, up to 27 percent of adolescent girls between the ages of 12 and 18 engage in disordered eating attitudes and behaviors(6).
ATHLETES – Eating disorders occur more commonly among male and female athletes compared to non-athletes, with prevalence rates of up to 31 percent among elite female athletes (8,9). Participating in sports that emphasize a thin physique or low body weight places individuals at highest risk of developing an eating disorder(9). Examples of these sports include gymnastics, ballet, running, wrestling, or martial arts. For female athletes, disordered eating behaviors can be associated with other serious consequences, which are collectively known as the female athlete triad: energy deficiency (that may be the result of disordered eating or an eating disorder), menstrual disturbances or amenorrhea, and bone loss or osteoporosis(10).
PREGNANT WOMEN – Pregnancy can be a vulnerable time for women, especially those who have suffered from an eating disorder in the past or are suffering at the time of conception. Approximately 1 in 21 women, or 5 percent of pregnant women, will suffer from an eating disorder(11). For some women, eating disorder symptoms improve during pregnancy and do not return after delivery, but other women experience a spike in symptoms after delivery, even if their symptoms improved during pregnancy. Having an eating disorder during pregnancy is associated with negative health and mental health outcomes for the mother during pregnancy, complications during delivery, and risks for the child (poorer infant growth, temperament, and toddler eating problems).
MEN – Although eating disorders are observed less frequently in men (especially anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa), as you can see from these graphs on eating disorders, it is estimated that 10 million men in the United States will be diagnosed with an eating disorder in their lifetime(7). Forty-two percent of men with eating disorders identify as gay men(7). Unfortunately, men are less likely than women to report symptoms of an eating disorder, are less likely to seek treatment, and may be met with resistance from healthcare providers when they do report suffering.
Written by Dr. Elisha Carcieri – 2015
1. Hudson, J. I., Hiripi, E., Pope Jr, H. G., & Kessler, R. C. (2007). The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological psychiatry, 61(3), 348-358.
2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM 5. bookpointUS.
3. Marcus, M. D., & Levine, M. D. (2005). Obese patients with binge-eating disorder. In The management of eating disorders and obesity (pp. 143-160). Humana Press.
4. Kalarchian, M. A., Marcus, M. D., Levine, M. D., Courcoulas, A. P., Pilkonis, P. A., Ringham, R. M., … & Rofey, D. L. (2007). Psychiatric disorders among bariatric surgery candidates: relationship to obesity and functional health status. The American journal of psychiatry, 164(2), 328-334.
5. Swanson, S. A., Crow, S. J., Le Grange, D., Swendsen, J., & Merikangas, K. R. (2011). Prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in adolescents: Results from the national comorbidity survey replication adolescent supplement. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68(7), 714-723.
6. Jones, J. M., Bennett, S., Olmsted, M. P., Lawson, M. L., & Rodin, G. (2001). Disordered eating attitudes and behaviours in teenaged girls: a school-based study. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 165(5), 547-552.Kalarchian et al., 2007).
7. National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). A silent epidemic? Eating disorders among males. http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/silent-epidemic. Accessed January 26, 2015.
8. Byrne, S., & McLean, N. (2001). Eating disorders in athletes: a review of the literature. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 4(2), 145-159.
9. Byrne, S., & McLean, N. (2002). Elite athletes: effects of the pressure to be thin. Journal of science and medicine in sport/Sports Medicine Australia, 5(2), 80.
10. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM; 2007). The Female Athlete Triad Position Stand. http://noc.usfsa.org/content/FemaleAthleteTriad.pdf. Accessed January 26, 2015.
11. Watson, H. J., Torgersen, L., Zerwas, S., Reichborn-Kjennerud, T., Knoph, C., Stoltenberg, C., … & Bulik, C. M. (2014). Eating disorders, pregnancy, and the postpartum period: Findings from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). Norsk epidemiologi, 24(1-2).