Recent Eating Disorders Statistics

A breakdown by population

Eating disorders are psychological disorders that can cause severe emotional, behavioral, and physical distress. Eating disorders do not discriminate and can affect people of all sizes, races, sexes, sexual orientations, and ages.

Historically, eating disorders have been associated with heterosexual White females, but the truth is that they affect people from all different demographics and ethnicities at the same rate.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) acknowledges that there is much more research to do on the relationships between sexuality, gender identity, body image, and eating disorders. This article will discuss how different communities are affected by eating disorders, their associated conditions, and treatment options.

People sitting in a group discussing their eating disorders


Katarzyna Bialasiewicz / iStock / Getty Images

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are complex psychological conditions that cause mental and physical distress. There are many diverse types of feeding and eating disorders, and they present with varying symptoms.

The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. "Other specified feeding and eating disorders" is an umbrella term that includes other eating disorders, such as purging disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa (AN)

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by weight loss or the inability to maintain a healthy weight. People with anorexia nervosa usually restrict the number of calories and the types of food they eat. They may also exercise compulsively, or use purging behaviors such as vomiting and laxatives, to burn off calories. People with AN may also binge eat.

Normal weight or overweight people may have atypical anorexia nervosa, but NEDA says, "They may be less likely to be diagnosed due to cultural prejudice against fat and obesity."

Bulimia Nervosa (BN)

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating that feel out of control. Binges are followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxatives, medications, diuretics, fasting, or excessive exercise. On average, binge eating and compensatory behaviors occur at least once a week for three months.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder involves recurrent episodes of binge eating. Binge eating is defined as eating large amounts of food very quickly.

This means eating in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any two-hour period) an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.

Binge eating usually occurs in isolation and a person feels no sense of control and can eat until the point of being uncomfortably full. After a binge eating episode, the person is often left feeling ashamed or guilty for eating.

The difference between bulimia and binge eating disorder is that people with binge eating disorder typically do not use compensatory mechanisms.

Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED)

Other specified feeding and eating disorder (OSFED) is an umbrella term for eating disorders that do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for other eating disorders, like AN, BN, and BED. This may include atypical forms of AN or purging disorder.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder occurs when there is extreme picky eating. A person with ARFID may have a limited food repertoire and practice food avoidance.

There can be anxiety and fear of what will happen when they eat; they may worry about food poisoning or choking. This can occur because of a prior choking episode.

A diagnosis will also require that the person have nutritional deficiencies or need a feeding tube or nutritional supplements to keep their nutrition status adequate. The main distinction of other eating disorders is that people with ARFID do not have extensive worries about their body weight or shape.

Rumination Disorder

Rumination disorder occurs when there is a regurgitation of food from the stomach to the mouth, which is either rechewed and swallowed, or spit out. This begins soon after eating and does not respond to therapies that treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

In addition, people with rumination disorder do not retch after eating and there is no metabolic, anatomic, inflammatory, or neoplastic cause. In order to be diagnosed with rumination disorder, a person must experience symptoms for at least three months.

Pica

Pica is an eating disorder in which a person consumes nonfood items (such as hair, dirt, or paint chips) persistently for at least one month or longer. Diagnosing pica involves a detailed eating history and should also be accompanied by tests for anemia, toxic substance exposure, and potential intestinal blockages.

Eating Disorders Statistics 

NEDA is doing its best to evaluate how eating disorders affect different groups and populations of people. Below, you'll find the statistical breakdown of eating disorders by gender, age, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, people in larger bodies, athletes, veterans, and globally.

By Gender

Although many people believe that eating disorders affect mostly women, men can be affected too:

  • Between 0.3% and 0.4% of young women and 0.1% of young men will experience anorexia nervosa. Men with anorexia nervosa are more likely to have a higher risk of dying from the illness because they are often misdiagnosed or diagnosed later.
  • Between 0.2% and 3.5% of females and 0.9% and 2% of males will develop binge eating disorder.
  • Between 1.1% and 4.6% of females and 0.1% to 0.5% of males will develop bulimia.

Most of the research on eating disorders has focused on cisgender men and women. Transgender research is lacking.

However, a comprehensive study published in 2015 examined associations of gender identity and sexual orientation with self-reported eating disorder (SR-ED) diagnosis and compensatory behaviors in transgender and cisgender college students.

The researchers found that transgender college students reported experiencing disordered eating at approximately four times the rate of their cisgender classmates.

Self-reports also showed that transgender students had higher rates of an eating disorder diagnosis as well as higher rates of disordered eating behaviors such as using diet pills or laxatives and vomiting.

NEDA says, "It’s currently not clear whether eating disorders are actually increasing in males and transgender populations or if more of those individuals who are suffering are seeking treatment or being diagnosed. Because physicians may have preconceptions about who eating disorders affect, their disorders have generally become more severe and entrenched at the point of diagnosis."

By Age

Eating disorders can occur and reoccur at any age. It appears that eating disorders have increased in all demographic sectors, but the rate of increase is higher in male, lower socioeconomic, and older participants.

Research indicates that the majority of eating disorders appear by the age of 25. But there is always a risk of relapse and continued prevalence at later ages; therefore, diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders at older ages should also be a priority.

Current eating disorder statistics by age are relatively similar across age groups. Based on diagnostic interview data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), the prevalence of binge eating disorders among U.S. adults from 2001 to 2003 is:

  • 1.4% (ages 18–29)
  • 1.1% (ages 30–44)
  • 1.5% (ages 45–59)
  • 0.8% (ages 60+)

BIPOC

NEDA has created a campaign for marginalized voices so that more attention can be brought to communities not necessarily suspected of eating disorders.

Because eating disorders have historically been associated with thin, young, White females, more attention must be paid to other communities, such as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).

Literature suggests that Black teenagers are 50% more likely than White teenagers to exhibit bulimic behavior, such as bingeing and purging. Although eating disorder rates are similar for non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians in the United States, people of color are less likely to receive help for their eating disorders.

LGBTQ+

Research regarding the LGBTQ+ community is lacking, but according to the NEDA statistics, there are some facts we do know:

  • Lesbian women experience less overall body dissatisfaction overall.
  • Beginning as early as 12 years of age, gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens may be at higher risk of binge-eating and purging than heterosexual peers.
  • In one study, gay males were seven times more likely to report binging and 12 times more likely to report purging than heterosexual males. Gay and bisexual boys also reported being significantly more likely to have fasted, vomited, or taken laxatives or diet pills to control their weight in the past 30 days.
  • In a 2007 study, compared with heterosexual men, gay and bisexual men had a significantly higher prevalence of lifetime full-syndrome bulimia, subclinical bulimia, and any subclinical eating disorder.
  • There were no significant differences between heterosexual women and lesbians and bisexual women in the prevalence of any of the eating disorders.
  • Black and Latinx members of the LGB community have at least as high a prevalence of eating disorders as White members of the LGB community.

People With Disabilities

The relationship between eating disorders and disabilities is complex, in part due to the lack of research involved in examining these conditions as they coexist. Eating disorders can affect people with physical disabilities and cognitive disabilities alike.

People with motility disabilities may be especially sensitive to body size, especially if they rely on someone to help them move around. People who have spinal cord injuries, vision disabilities, and those with profound intellectual disabilities have also been found to have eating and feeding disorders.

The exact percentage of people with disabilities and eating disorders is not clear.

People in Larger Bodies

People often assume that you can tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. This is not the case. Eating disorders can occur in people who are underweight, normal weight, or those considered to be overweight.

For example, people who have bulimia nervosa may be of normal weight or even overweight. A study reported that less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight."

NEDA reports that children who live in larger bodies and are teased about their weight are more like to participate in extreme weight control measures, binge eating, and experience weight gain.

The same goes for adults. Those who live in larger bodies and experience weight-based stigmatization are more likely to engage in more frequent binge eating, are at increased risk of eating disorder symptoms, and are more likely to have a diagnosis of binge eating disorder.

They are also half as likely as those who are "underweight" or "normal weight" to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Athletes

As compared with non-athletes, athletes are also at increased risk of developing eating disorders. This is especially true for those who participate in aesthetic, gravitational, and weight-class sports such as figure skating, wrestling, gymnastics, bodybuilding, horseback riding, and rowing.

In a review published in the European Journal of Sport Science, authors say that the prevalence of disordered eating and eating disorders varies from 0% to 19% in male athletes and 6% to 45% in female athletes.

Those athletes playing at a competitive collegiate level and high-performance athletes are also at risk of developing eating disorders and disordered eating. In a sample of NCAA Division I and III athletes, reports of disordered eating in athletes ranged from 40.4% to 49.2%.

Athletes may be less likely to seek treatment for an eating disorder due to stigma, accessibility, and sport‐specific barriers.

Veterans

As it pertains to veterans, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) statistics state:

  • The most common type of eating disorder among military members is bulimia nervosa.
  • A survey of 3,000 female military members found that the majority of respondents exhibited eating disorder symptoms.

Globally

Eating disorders affect about 9% of the global population.

Associated Conditions

Studies have shown that eating disorders are associated with psychological disorders, as well as mood disorders and low self-esteem. Commonly associated conditions include anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism.

Body dissatisfaction is also associated with eating disorders and includes feelings of shame, anxiety, and self-consciousness. People with negative body image are also more likely to experience feelings of low-self esteem and isolation.

Additionally, eating disorders can affect the body physically. People with eating disorders are more likely to have medical conditions. The type of medical conditions will depend on the severity of the disease and which type of eating disorder a person has.

For example, people with anorexia nervosa may experience fractures, low blood pressure, increased heart rate, or sudden cardiac death (abrupt loss of heart function), which is a severe outcome of anorexia nervosa.

Treatment

Treatment for eating disorders is complex but possible. Treatment should address all aspects of the disease, including psychological, behavioral, nutritional, and other medical complications. There are different types of psychological therapies that are used depending on the type of eating disorder a person has.

Barriers to treatment need to be addressed, particularly in marginalized groups, like BIPOC and LGBTQ+ populations. Spreading awareness within these communities can help bridge the gap of care.

Anyone can develop an eating disorder at any time. Understanding the risks can help detect and treat eating disorders more quickly, and as a result, can lead to better outcomes.

Access to Care

Stereotypes about who is affected by eating disorders can contribute to eating disorder disparities and access to care.

One study found that socioeconomic background is associated with perceived need for eating disorder treatment; students from affluent backgrounds had higher odds of perceiving need and of receiving treatment compared with their nonaffluent peers.

Eating Disorder Mortality Rates

Eating disorders can be a deadly mental illness if left untreated. According to ANAD, 10,200 deaths each year are the direct result of an eating disorder—which translates to about one death every 52 minutes. And about 26% of people with eating disorders attempt suicide.

If You Are Having Suicidal Thoughts

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Summary

Eating disorders vary in their behaviors and symptoms, They can affect people of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, and sexes. It is not possible to determine if a person has an eating disorder just by looking at them. Eating disorders may be diagnosed later in people who do not fit the stereotype of a young, White, heterosexual female.

A Word From Verywell

As we continue to understand the complexities of eating disorders, we must do so with a clear lens. In addition, more research needs to be done in marginalized groups so that diagnoses can be made.

Early detection and treatment are critical to long-term health and survival. If you suspect that you or someone you know has an eating disorder, it's important to get help as soon as possible. The more marginalization is talked about, the easier it will be to end stigmatization.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common are eating disorders?

    It is estimated that around 28 million to 30 million people (about 9% of the U.S. population) will experience an eating disorder in their lifetimes.

  • Are models more likely to have an eating disorder?

    Historical stereotypes can perpetuate generalizations regarding eating disorders. Because models are usually depicted as tall and thin, it is commonplace to suspect that models are at increased risk of eating disorders or disordered eating habits. The problem is that although there have been many self-reported cases, the literature is lacking.


    Researchers conducted a systematic literature search between 1980 and 2015, and only seven studies included fashion models and eating disorders. They found that, overall, there was no indication of a higher prevalence of eating disorders among fashion models compared with non-models. However, fashion models were on average slightly underweight, with a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than non-models. Models also gave higher importance to appearance and thin body shape. Therefore, they concluded that there is a higher prevalence of partial-syndrome eating disorders than controls.


    Perhaps one of the problems is that models are less likely to seek help due to the demands of looking a certain way to get work. As a result, they will not meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder. They will also miss early detection and treatment, which can be very problematic.


    The good news is that modeling is no longer restricted to those people who have a specific body type. Plus-size models are also celebrated and are becoming more active in media. Many professionals continue to push to break diet culture and adopt a "healthy at every size" mentality. As we move forward, hopefully models can continue to celebrate their bodies for what they are.

  • What age and gender are most affected by eating disorders?

    While eating disorders can affect people of all ages and genders, they continue to affect females between the ages of 12 and 25 at increased rates.

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