Eating Disorder Statistics

How many people are affected by eating disorders?

A recent estimate of the lifetime prevalence of eating disorders is provided by the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, a face-to-face household survey of 9,282 individuals. [1] According to this survey, 0.90% of women and 0.30% of men are suffering from Anorexia Nervosa, 1.5% of women and 0.50% of men are suffering from Bulimia Nervosa, and 3.5% of women and 2.0% of men are suffering from Binge Eating Disorder. Taken together, about 9.18 million women and 4.24 million men have struggled with an eating disorder. Those with Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) were not evaluated in the survey.

What other disorders co-occur with eating disorders?

It is not unusual for an eating disorder to occur in conjunction with other psychiatric conditions. [2,3] Major depression is the most commonly diagnosed condition, with estimates suggesting that depression strikes approximately half of  individuals with bulimia nervosa or anorexia.  In some cases, these depressions predate the eating disorder, and in others they follow the eating disorder.  In addition to depression, and at times, bipolar disorder, eating disorders also co-occur with many anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and body dysmorphic disorder.

How many college students have clinical eating disorders or disordered eating?

Many college students have some type of disordered eating ranging from mild dieting to pathological dieting to disordered eating and/or clinically diagnosed eating disorders. It is estimated that clinical eating disorders affect 10 to 20% of female university students, [4-13], and4 to 10 % of male university students. [8, 13, 14]  However, we do not have as many studies to capture the range of behaviors and responses of men suffering from eating concerns and the surveys with women only capture those who self-identify as having an eating problem.   More globally, the American College Health Association reported from their semi-annual survey [15] of 95,712 students that 44% of college women are dieting to lose weight and 27% of college men are dieting to lose weight. Similarly, 61% of college women are exercising to lose weight and 45% of college men are exercising to lose weight. A smaller percentage of college students are using vomiting, laxatives, or diet pills: 4% of college women are vomiting or using laxatives to lose weight and 1% of college men are vomiting or using laxatives to lose weight. Similarly, 5% of college women are taking diet pills to lose weight, while 2% of college men are taking diet pills to lose weight.

How many college students are affected by body image concerns?

Research has shown that body image concerns are extremely prevalent on college campuses.   Studies indicate that students coming into college have already experienced a distorted body image. [11] And not surprisingly, at least three quarters (75%) of college students are dissatisfied with their weight. [16] Additionally, one third (approximately 33%) of university students report weight cycling in which they have lost and regained 10 pounds. [8]

Are athletes at a higher risk for eating disorders or disordered eating than in the general college student population?

Research suggests that some college athletes are at a heightened risk for eating disorders. Overall, results from studies suggest that those sports emphasizing weight and physique are more likely to put an athlete at increased risk for disordered eating and/or an eating disorder (examples of these particular sports include: gymnastics, wrestling, figure skating, ballet, diving, swimming, and long distance running). Of those athletes surveyed, many want to lose weight: 88.2% of collegiate female athletes reported that they were overweight and wanted to lose weight. [17]

Additionally, these athletes are 2 to 3 times more at-risk for developing eating disorders (as many as 25% of females at risk for anorexia nervosa, 58% of females at risk for bulimia nervosa, 10% of males at risk for anorexia nervosa and 38% of males at risk for bulimia nervosa) than those who are not collegiate athletes. [18]

(These numbers and percentages listed above do not include those who do not identify with having an eating disorder or those affected by muscle dysmorphia, eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS), binge eating disorder, or body dysmorphia).

In what ways are college men affected by body image disturbances, eating disorders, or disordered eating?

Research has clearly shown that men are also affected by eating disorders and body image disturbances. [19, 20]  At least 10 to 15% of men experience clinical eating disorders. [21] However, many men sometimes experience these problems differently than women.   For example, a percentage of men may want to gain weight, or become more muscular. [22, 23]  Research also suggests that just as many men are dissatisfied with their body as women. [15] For example, as determined by the college health surveys, at least 45% of men are exercising to lose weight. [15]

In the male population, there is a concern with muscle dysmorphia. Muscle dysmorphia is defined as becoming obsessed with not being big or muscular enough. [22] This disorder is much more common in men because they want to bulk up, gain muscle, or gain weight. [24] Males who want to become more muscular are at an elevated risk for other co-morbid psychiatric conditions (including anxiety and depression), and additionally have a higher risk for obsessive-compulsive symptoms. [22] Risk factors for having body image problems or eating disorders in men include perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive disorder traits, and/or a high drive for muscularity. [22, 24, 25]

Michelle Schlesinger, BA
Brandeis University


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