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Eating disorder statistics 2021

What are eating disorders? | How common are eating disorders? | Eating disorder statistics worldwide | Eating disorder statistics by sex | Eating disorder statistics by age | Binge eating disorder statistics | Eating disorders and overall health | Eating disorder treatment | Research

Everyone has a different relationship with food. For some, it is a source of comfort, indulgence, or sustenance. Others can have a negative and even damaging association with food. Eating disorders are serious mental health problems, signifying a person’s unhealthy relationship with food. The cause of eating disorders include the effects of another mental illness, genetics, media, negative body image, and trauma.

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are illnesses that affect a person’s relationship with food and body image. People with eating disorders have excessive thoughts of food, their body weight or shape, and how to control their intake of food. Types of eating disorders include: 

  • Anorexia nervosa, which is characterized by weight loss or maintenance by extreme dieting, starvation, or too much exercise.
  • Binge eating, which means to frequently consume an unusually large amount of food in one sitting. 
  • Bulimia nervosa, with symptoms include purging, taking laxatives, exercising, or fasting to avoid weight gain after binge eating.

“One may experience this as an anxious state of mind, a depressed mood, or may have a mix of anxiety and depression,” says Anna Hindell, LCSW-R, a psychotherapist based in New York. “Turning to control and restricting food intake or becoming addicted to binging and purging is always a symptom or effect of an underlying feeling that the person lives with. It is usually some unresolved feeling related to low self-esteem, lack of worth, or repressed trauma. People turn to the attempt at controlling food intake or eating their emotions instead of dealing with the underlying problem, if untreated.”

How common are eating disorders?

  • Approximately 30 million Americans live with an eating disorder. (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders)
  • Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness among adolescent females in the United States. (International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 2007)
  • 10 million men in the U.S. will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. (National Eating Disorders Association)
  • The lifetime prevalence of eating disorders is highest among those with a binge eating disorder (5.5% compared to 2% for bulimia and 1.2% for anorexia). (Biological Psychiatry, 2007)

Eating disorder statistics worldwide

  • Global eating disorder prevalence increased from 3.4% to 7.8% between 2000 and 2018. (The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2019)
  • 70 million people internationally live with eating disorders. (National Eating Disorders Association)
  • Japan has the highest prevalence of eating disorders in Asia, followed by Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea. (International Journal of Eating Disorders, 2015)
  • Austria had the highest rate of prevalence in Europe at 1.55% as of 2012. (Psychology Today, 2013)
  • Almost half of all Americans know someone with an eating disorder. (South Carolina Department of Mental Health)

Eating disorder statistics by sex

  • Eating disorders were more prevalent among young women (3.8%) than men (1.5%) in the U.S. as of 2001-2004. (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2010)
  • A quarter of those with anorexia are male. Men have an increased risk of dying because they are diagnosed much later than women. This could be in part due to the misconception that men do not experience eating disorders. (Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue, 2014)

Eating disorder statistics by age 

  • Globally, 13% of women older than 50 experience disordered eating behaviors. (International Journal of Eating Disorders, 2012)
  • The median age of eating disorder onset was 21 years old for binge eating disorder and 18 years old for anorexia and bulimia nervosa. (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2010)
  • The lifetime prevalence of eating disorders in the U.S. was 2.7% among adolescents as of 2001-2004. (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2010)
  • Of adolescents with eating disorders, the 17- to 18-year-old age group had the highest prevalence (3%). (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2010)

Researchers followed a group of 496 adolescent girls in a U.S. city over a span of eight years and found that by the age of 20: 

  • More than 5% of the girls met the criteria for anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.
  • More than 13% of the girls had experienced an eating disorder when including non-specific eating disorder symptoms.

(Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2010)

Binge eating disorder statistics

Binge eating disorder is characterized by frequent episodes of consuming unusually large amounts of food in a relatively short time. A person with binge eating disorder often feels binge eating is outside of his or her control and may feel shame because of it. 

  • Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. (National Eating Disorders Association)
  • Nearly 3% of adults experience binge eating disorder in their lifetime. (Biological Psychiatry, 2007)
  • American women (3.5%) and men (2%) experience a binge eating disorder during their lifetime, making binge eating disorder three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined. (Biological Psychiatry, 2007)
  • Less than half (43.6%) of people with binge eating disorder will receive treatment. (Osteopathic Family Physician, 2013)

The impact of eating disorders

  • About one person dies every hour as a direct result of an eating disorder. (Eating Disorders Coalition, 2016)
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. (Smink, F. E., van Hoeken, D., & Hoek, H. W., 2012)
  • Anorexia is the most deadly mental illness. One study found that people with anorexia are 56 times more likely to commit suicide than people without an eating disorder. (Eating Disorders Coalition, 2016)
  • Up to half of the people with an eating disorder misused alcohol or illicit drugs at a rate five times higher than the general population. (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 2003) 
  • The vast majority (97%) of people hospitalized for an eating disorder have a co-occurring health condition. Mood disorders, like major depression, are the primary underlying condition followed by anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorder. (Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention, 2014)
  • Diabetes patients who have an eating disorder, struggle with controlling their diabetes, which exposes them to diabetic complications such as heart disease, stroke, neuropathy, loss of vision, and kidney disease. 

RELATED: Anxiety statistics 2020

Treating eating disorders

Due to the effect of eating disorders on the body and mind, treatment options usually include psychological and nutritional counseling and monitoring, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

“There are various models of treatment for eating disorders,” Hindell says. “There are residential programs, hospital programs, day treatment programs. For the majority of people who have eating disorders, and the people I see are high functioning individuals, usually very perfectionistic types, who do well with a mix of psychotherapy, sessions with a nutritionist, and at times, psychopharmacology.”

With eating disorder treatment, 60% of patients make a full recovery. However, only 1 in 10 people with an eating disorder will seek and receive treatment. 

Eating disorder research