Last updated on December 9th, 2018
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:
How common is anorexia?
- 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%.
- 0.003% of children under the age of 13 (that’s 3 in every 100,000) have anorexia or a variant of anorexia.
How common is bulimia?
- 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%.
How common is binge eating disorder?
- 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.
How common are all types of eating disorder?
- 6.1% of adolescents age 13 to 18 have or have had an eating disorder (lifetime prevalence). This is for all types of eating disorders (including the 'subthreshold' diagnosis from DSM-IV, of which many are in the current diagnoses of DSM-5),
- If you count only females in the above, the figure is 7.7%
- That figure could be a lot higher. It was 13.1% in a 8-year study of almost 500 adolescent girls age 13 to 21 in a US school.
- And it could be even higher. In a US questionnaire screening study of almost 6000 pupils, almost 15% of girls and 4% of boys may have had an eating disorder (many undiagnosed and untreated).
- As you can see, statistics vary. Another, far lower figure is that 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 16 years.
How common is disordered eating?
- 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).
All eating disorders (not just anorexia) have high mortality rates
With any type of eating disorder, there are 1.5 to 2 times more deaths than would be expected in the equivalent normal population (standard mortality ratio). Anorexia is often quoted as having the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, but recent figures from people who got outpatient care show that it's not just anorexia: all eating disorders are generally lethal to the same degree.
Differences come up among those who have been inpatients (so presumably at the more severe end): for these people anorexia does have the highest mortality, with a death rate that is 5 to 6 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.
With any type of eating disorder , there are 4 to 6.5 times more deaths by suicide than in the general population (standard mortality ratio). 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.
Eating disorders are anything but rare!
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:
'NEDA parents' toolkit' summarises statistics on eating disorders: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/parent-toolkit
'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. (The link used to be http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/files/pdfversion/CR170.pdf and I'm not sure if or when it will be updated by rcpsych)
'Increased mortality in bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders.' Crow SJ, Peterson, CB, Swanson SA, Raymond NC, Specker S, Eckert ED, Mitchell JE. (2009) Am J Psychiatry, 166(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19833789
‘ 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, incidence, impairment, and course of the proposed DSM-5 eating disorder diagnoses in an 8-year prospective community study of young women'. Stice, E., Marti, C. N., & Rohde, P. (2013). Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122(2), 445-457. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3980846/
'Screening high school students for eating disorders: results of a national initiative' .Austin, S. B., Ziyadeh, N. J., Forman, S., Prokop, L. A., Keliher, A., & Jacobs, D. (2008). Preventing Chronic Disease, 5(4), A114. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2578782/
‘ 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/