Eating Disorder Statistics
(Updated October 2023)
We at The Barbecue Lab view food as something to be enjoyed. Unfortunately for some, certain problematic thoughts and behavior patterns can develop into eating disorders. Eating Disorders are a category of mental illness. They require treatment by both medical and mental health professionals. We put together a statistics page to relay information to spread awareness.
Quick Eating Disorder Statistics
Get any group of women together and you might hear the familiar words, “You’re looking so good, have you lost weight?” Or you may be privy to gossip about how much weight someone has gained since high school.
What is unfortunate is that many Americans derive some of their value and self worth from their appearance. Indeed, in a world of hashtags and social media, we are bombarded with images of “perfection” through the use of filters and flattering camera angles. We start saying to ourselves, “If only…” or “I wish…” when it comes to our body type. We notice what people say about our appearance, for better or worse, and compare ourselves and others to the standard that Hollywood and the media portray to us.
In school or on a sports team, we might have been teased or bullied or shamed or feel “less than” because of our body type, whether we’re short or tall, athletic or not, it seems that everyone has something to say. All of these factors can wreak havoc on our self-esteem as we begin to value ourselves on whether our appearance conforms to our cultural standards and not on our character.
The media is no help either. Natural beauty has been replaced with artificial beauty and what we see on the receiving end has been curated so that all we see are perfect images. Our expectations become unrealistic, the standard set so high that no one can live up to it. In fact only 5% of American females naturally have the body type portrayed in the media. As much as 70% of people ages 18-30 are unhappy with their bodies. But we as a culture certainly can try to live up to the standard set by the media- and we do, much to our detriment. This all starts at an early age.
Only 5% of American females naturally have the body type portrayed in the media.
Dieting in Childhood
While there are many factors that contribute to developing an eating disorder, genetics and environment are at the top of the list. As a child being raised within the context of family, the environment they live in most times includes their biological parents where these two factors collide for the formative years of a child’s life. Young children can hear what their mothers say about their own body, whether positively or negatively. They can see what their father values in terms of “beauty” by how he treats his wife.
How is food viewed within their environments? Is it something to be enjoyed together to nourish their bodies? Or is it something to be vilified and made to have more power over our psyche than it should? Are kids eating junk food out of boredom? Do parents turn to food when stressed and “eat” their feelings? What types of media are consumed? All these things are part of the environment which we grow up in.
The school and social environment have a part to play as well. The comments from peers about body shape and appearances start early and can have detrimental effects on how children view themselves.
With girls’ peak self esteem hitting at age 9, it's’ no wonder that In our image-obsessed culture that American teenage girls are hit the hardest by eating disorders. Of the people diagnosed with eating disorders, 95% of them are aged 12-25.
Thoughts and behaviors related to food and body image start from an early age. Girls are three times more likely to have a negative body image than boys, and girls as young as 5 become worried about their weight . 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to lose weight and 45% of children grades 3-6 want to lose weight. 80% of children fear becoming fat, and 40% of 9-10 year old girls have reported dieting in order to lose weight.
Over half of American teenage girls think they are overweight. Of the 50-60% of the teens that think they are overweight, only 15-20% of them actually are.
While most people are dissatisfied with their body and appearance, some individuals develop behaviors & thought patterns which become problematic. Behaviors that affect health, well being & functioning can cross over into becoming a disorder.
Most people diet at some point in their life, but while 35% of dieters move to pathological dieters, 25% of those move to gaining an eating disorder.
Eating disorders can affect people of all ages. The prevalence of eating disorders in children is rising, and there has been an 119% increase in hospitalizations for children under 12 with eating disorders. By the time they hit adulthood, 13% of children will have an eating disorder. Even 13% of adults over the age of 50 will show eating disorder behaviors.
Of the people diagnosed with an eating disorder, 95% are aged 12-25. The group of people that have the highest risk of an eating disorder are females in sports where aesthetic, weight and appearance play a major role, including ballet, gymnastics and figure skating.
We will look at statistics on the most common eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders in this article.
Anorexia nervosa primarily affects adolescent girls and young women. 90% of people with anorexia are women, only 10% are male.
The main symptoms include a distorted body image, a debilitating fear of becoming fat, and excessive dieting, including obsessing about calories, food restriction and use of laxatives which can lead to extreme weight loss.
The general risk for developing anorexia that comes from genetic factors is 50-80%, meaning you’re more likely to develop anorexia if one of your biological parents had anorexia. Half of anorexia patients have comorbid anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or a social phobia.
Most instances of anorexia lasts on average 6 years, and a lot of damage can be done during that time. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorders at 10%. Complications that arise from this disease include malnutrition, cardiac issues, irregular heart rhythms, kidney & liver problems, osteoporosis, and electrolyte imbalances. Sadly, 1 in 5 deaths from anorexia is by suicide. Only 10% of people with anorexia will get the help they need to beat the condition. When accounting for all the complications that can arise from anorexia, anorexia is the mental disorder with the highest mortality rate.
Bulimia Nervosa is another type of eating disorder. Normal or overweight individuals can fall into this category, and they often fear gaining weight, are desperate to lose weight, and are severely dissatisfied with their body size, shape & appearance.
It is defined by such behaviors as binge eating followed by a behavior that compensates for the binge. Binge eating is eating an excessive amount of food paired with feeling a loss of control, like you can’t stop eating. Because of the discomfort and shame that comes with eating so much food, a person will then perform any or all of the following purging behaviors. These behaviors include self induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting (or going without food), and excessive exercise.
Bulimia affects 4.7 million women and 1.5 million men in the United States, though the number of males being diagnosed is expected to increase because of better awareness of how males display symptoms. At some point in their life, 8% of women are diagnosed with bulimia, and most cases of bulimia lasts for 5 years. As much as 25% of college age females use the behaviors of bingeing and purging as weight loss methods.
Out of all the eating disorders, those struggling with bulimia have the highest risk of suicide. Many people with bulimia also have a mental disorder such as anxiety or depression. There are also other medical complications that can arise from purging, such as tooth decay and acid reflux.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States with 2.8 million Americans affected. With 2% of men being affected, binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder among men. 3.5% of women and 1.6% of children are also affected by binge eating disorder in the United States. Binge eating disorder is 3 times more prevalent than anorexia.
A binge episode is defined by eating an excessive amount of food paired with the loss of the sense of control. A person can eat really fast or past the point that feels comfortable, eat a lot even though they aren’t hungry, and will feel shame and embarrassment for how much they have eaten. Unlike bulimia, a person with binge eating disorder does not take measures to purge their excessive food intake. A person with this disorder can be overweight or normal weight, but ⅔ of people with binge eating disorder are considered obese.
Some research suggests that people who binge might have a problem with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Excessive eating, particularly foods with high fat and sugar content release extra dopamine in the brain. Many with binge eating disorder also display addictive behaviors as well.
While half of all people know someone with an eating disorder, only 10% of those with an eating disorder will get the help they need. One person dies every hour from a complication associated with an eating disorder.
Eating disorders have a prevalence of a co-morbid mental health disorder, so eating disorders require an extensive treatment team including a psychiatrist, a therapist, a nutritionist and a patient’s primary doctor.
Because of the fear of being stigmatized or misperceptions about therapy, 70% of people with eating disorders shy away from medical help. Of the people who get help, 50-70% of those make a full and complete recovery, while others have varied degrees of healing. It is a highly treatable illness.
Raising awareness is only half the battle. We have to make mental illness ok to talk about - mental illness will not go away on its own. We have to take away the stigma that surrounds mental health and make it safe for people to talk about and to go get the treatment they need. Having a mental illness is not a character flaw - it does not make you “crazy” or “lazy” or “less than.” We believe that every person has value and has a life that is worth living, regardless of their struggles and illness. It is ok to need help and it is ok to ask for it.
Eating Disorder Statistics
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