How common are eating disorders? Here are some figures you could use if you need to show your school or other authorities that eating disorders are anything but rare and that resources need to be allocated to them.
These are ballpark figures which I’ve collected from scientific papers, talks, books and eating disorders charities. I must tell, you the figures are all over the place when you start looking closely, so please take them with a pinch of salt. Very roughly speaking:
- At any point in time 0.5 to 1% of female adolescents have anorexia and so do 0.3% adult females.
- 0.5% to 4.3% of females have anorexia some time in their life.
- For males the figure is around 0.2% to 0.3%.
- 3% of female adolescents have bulimia.
- 1 to 7% of females have bulimia some time in their life.
- For males the figure is around 0.1% to 0.5%.
- 2 to 4% of females have binge eating disorder some time in their life.
- For males the figure is around 0.3% to 2.1%. Binge eating disorder is the most common form of eating disorder in men.
- Overall, roughly 5% of the population has an eating disorder some time in their life (that’s 1 in 20). In the US, 10 million people have anorexia or bulimia. Many more have binge eating disorder.
- The most frequent age of onset of a recognised eating disorder is 14 to 15 years.
- 0.003% of children under the age of 13 (that’s 3 in every 100,000) have anorexia or a variant of anorexia.
- As to ‘disordered eating’, it may be a source of misery for more than 55 percent of teen girls and 30 percent of boys (skipping meals, binges, use of diet pills or laxatives, vomiting).
Among the most severe, chronically sick patients with anorexia, the risk of death is 5 times higher than expected in age-matched peers in the general population (standardized mortality rate). For bulimia and binge eating disorder the rate is 1.5. One in 5 of deaths from an eating disorder may be from suicide (see my charts here), though I’ve also read that with anorexia, half of the deaths are due to cardiac failure, and half to suicide. These figures don’t reflect the recent improvements in treatment approaches such as those described in my book.
I like this talk by Daniel Le Grange (co-author of the family-based treatment manual). Nine minutes in he explains statistics to show how eating disorders are not rare.
I have gathered these statistics from all kinds of sources. If you’re interested, check out studies reported by eating disorders organisations. Here are a few of my sources – and more – to get you started:
‘Graphs on eating disorders’. A great round-up of statistics by Dr Elisha Carcieti (2015) in Mirror Mirror http://www.mirror-mirror.org/graphs-on-eating-disorders.htm
‘Yes, eating disorders can be deadly’. Lauren Muhlheim (2016) https://www.verywell.com/yes-eating-disorders-can-be-deadly-1138269
Fichter, M. M. and Quadflieg, N. ‘Mortality in eating disorders – results of a large prospective clinical longitudinal study‘ Int J of Eating Disorders 2016; 49 (4) This is the most highly regarded study on mortality as it is so large: almost 6000 people who had been inpatients for anorexia, bulimia or ED-NOS.
‘ The incidence of eating disorders in the UK in 2000–2009: findings from the General Practice Research Database’. Nadia Micali, Katrina W Hagberg, Irene Petersen, Janet L Treasure. BMJ Open 2013:3:002646
‘ Epidemiology of Eating Disorders: Incidence, Prevalence and Mortality Rates.’ Frédérique R. E. Smink, Daphne van Hoeken, and Hans W. Hoek. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2012 August; 14(4): 406–414. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3409365/
‘Eating disorders in the UK: service distribution, service development and training. Report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Section of Eating Disorders’, March 2012. http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/files/pdfversion/CR170.pdf
‘ Prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in adolescents. Results from the national comorbidity survey replication adolescent supplement.’ Swanson SA, Crow SJ, Le Grange D, Swendsen J, Merikangas KR. 2011 Jul;68(7):714-23 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21383252
‘ Prevalence, Heritability, and Prospective Risk Factors for Anorexia Nervosa.’ Cynthia M. Bulik, Patrick F. Sullivan, Federica Tozzi, Helena Furberg, Paul Lichtenstein, Nancy L. Pedersen. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63(3):305-312. http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=209373
‘ Prevalence and risk and protective factors related to disordered eating behaviors among adolescents: relationship to gender and ethnicity’. Croll J, Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M, Ireland M. J Adolesc Health. 2002 Aug;31(2):166-75. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12127387#
Carrie Arnold’s blog and most importantly, the comments and discussions it raised: http://ed-bites.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/1-in-20-project.html and also http://edbites.com/2013/05/are-eds-really-on-the-rise/
Tetyana’s blog: Science of Eating Disorders. ‘How common are eating disorders? Incidence, prevalence and mortality rates’ http://www.scienceofeds.org/2012/10/10/how-common-are-eating-disorders/
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) has compiled some eating disorders statistics with journal references: http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/