The Prevalence of Eating Disorders

The Prevalence of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are mental and physical illnesses that will affect tens of millions of Americans at some point during their lifetimes. Experts have previously been unable to isolate any singular cause behind eating disorders; they now, however, largely agree that a combination of sociocultural, genetic, and biological factors can lead to their development in certain individuals. While there may be various myths about eating disorders propagated by our society, it is essential to acknowledge that these illnesses may develop in anyone, regardless of their background or age. 

The National Eating Disorders Association has compiled several different studies and surveys into one place, providing invaluable insight on the prevalence and other trends surrounding eating disorders in America. 

Eating Disorders and Co-occurring Issues

A study of more than 2400 individuals who had been hospitalized for an eating disorder found that 97% of these individuals also suffered from at least one co-occurring condition; these conditions included both mood and anxiety disorders. Another study showed that about 25% of those suffering from an eating disorder concurrently present with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Yet another study showed that two-thirds of individuals that suffer from anorexia nervosa also displayed signs of an anxiety disorder many years before their struggle with anorexia nervosa began. Finally, traits that are deemed obsessive-compulsive in children, such as perfectionism, a concern about making mistakes, and the need to follow rules were seen more frequently in women who developed eating disorders later in life as opposed to those who did not.

The Bigger Picture

A study cited by the National Eating Disorders Association followed a group of 496 adolescent girls from the time they were twelve until they turned twenty. By the study’s conclusion, the researchers found that 5.2% of the young women met the DSM-5 criteria for bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder. And when the researchers added non specific eating disorder symptoms to their evaluations, they found that 13.2% of all the girls had already dealt with an eating disorder–according to the DSM-5’s standards–by the time they were twenty.

The National Eating Disorders Association also discussed the prevalence of eating disorders among men, who are a frequently overlooked group when it comes to these illnesses. One such study found that subclinical eating disorder behaviors like fasting, binge eating, purging, and laxative abuse are almost as common in men as they are in women. A different study found that out of all the individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa, about 25% are men. Men who suffer from anorexia also have a higher risk of mortality because they are often diagnosed later due to societal biases and stigma. 

Where to Find Help

While eating disorders are fairly common diseases that could lead to serious mental and physical side effects, they are thankfully treatable. And everyone’s treatment plan will depend on his or her particular situation; everyone’s recovery journey looks different. If you are worried about yourself or a loved one, there are several hotlines you can contact. Additionally, we are here to help you at Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists. You may contact us via phone (866-525-2766), email, or by filling out our contact form.

Scroll to Top