Understanding eating disorder statistics is important, as myths and misunderstandings can easily come up. One stereotype that doesn’t line up with actual statistics is that the “face” of an eating disorder would be a young, white female with anorexia. In reality, anyone of any race, age, gender, or socioeconomic status can be affected. Another misconception is that eating disorders are a matter of vanity, rather than a serious mental illness. And yet another is the belief that if someone in a larger body has an eating disorder, it must be binge eating disorder (BED). Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes and no story is exactly the same.

Eating Disorder Statistics and Facts

Because we so commonly see and hear about these misconceptions about eating disorders, these eating disorder statistics may be surprising:

  • Over 30 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime.1
  • BED occurs in 2.8% of people at some point in their lifetime.1
  • Less than half of those with bulimia nervosa or BED ever seek treatment for their eating disorder.1
  • Women have 1.75-3 times as high lifetime prevalence for anorexia, bulimia, or BED as compared to men.1
  • Men are three times more likely than women to have subthreshold BED. This means the disordered eating is significant but does not meet all the criteria for an official diagnosis.1
  • 50-80% of the risk for developing anorexia nervosa is genetic.2
  • Anorexia nervosa is the deadliest mental illness. The risk of death due to anorexia is more than double the death rate of schizophrenia, almost triple the rate of bipolar disorder, and more than triple the rate of death due to depression.3
  • For deaths due to anorexia, one in five is from suicide.3
  • Males and females display subclinical behaviors of disordered eating at almost the same rate. These behaviors include laxative abuse, fasting, binge eating, and purging.4
  • The National Eating Disorders Association cites that 20 million women and 10 million men will have an eating disorder during their lifetime.
  • Males make up 25% of people with anorexia. Because they are often diagnosed later than females, they are at higher risk of dying.4
  • Men are likely underdiagnosed with eating disorders because clinical assessment tools emphasize a desire to lose weight as opposed to building muscle.5
  • Disordered eating has increased across all demographics, but at an even faster rate for older people, males, and people with a lower socioeconomic status. The researchers noted “the ‘democratization’ of disordered eating.”6
  • Over 60% of women in the military who were surveyed met criteria for an eating disorder. For Marine Corps respondents, 97.5% met the criteria to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.
  • Over a third of female Division 1 NCAA athletes reported behaviors that demonstrate risk for developing anorexia nervosa.7
  • Among female college athletes in a range of sports, 25.5% of them displayed subclinical symptoms of eating disorders.8
  • For female athletes in aesthetic sports such as gymnastics, figure skating, cheerleading, swimming, and dance, 41.5% reported disordered eating.9
  • Female athletes in aesthetic sports who engaged in disordered eating were eight times more likely to get injured than their peers who did not engage in disordered eating.9
  • Girls as young as five years old who participate in aesthetic sports have higher rates of weight concerns compared to peers who either do not engage in sports or participate in non-aesthetic sports such as soccer.10

Read on for More Statistics about Eating Disorders

As you can see, eating disorders impact many people from all walks of life. Know that there is help for those who are struggling with disordered eating. If you or someone you love needs support, turn to Center for Discovery. Get in touch with us today.

Barbara Spanjers, MS MFT, is a therapist and wellness coach who helps people feel more attuned with food and their body.

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  1. Hudson, J.I., Hiripi, E., Pope, H. G. Jr, & Kessler, R. C. (2007). The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological Psychiatry, 61(3), 348-58.
  2. Trace, S. E., Baker, J. H., Peñas-Lledó, E., & Bulik, C. M. (2013). The genetics of eating disorders. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 9, 589-620.
  3. Arcelus, J., Mitchell, A. J., Wales, J., & Nielsen, S. (2011). Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders: A meta-analysis of 36 studies. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 68(7), 724–731.
  4. Mond, J. M., Mitchison, D., & Hay, P. (2014). Prevalence and implications of eating disordered behavior in men. In L. Cohn & R. Lemberg (Eds). Current Findings on Males with Eating Disorders (pp. 195-215). Routledge.
  5. Cohn, L. & Murray, S. B. (2014, October 1). The facts about males and eating disorders. Gurze-Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue.
  6. Mitchison, D., Hay, P., Slewa-Younan, S., & Mond, J. (2014). The changing demographic profile of eating disorder behaviors in the community. BMC Public Health, 14(1).
  7. Johnson, C., Powers, P. S., & Dick. R. (1999). Athletes and eating disorders: The National Collegiate Athletic Association Study. Int J Eat DIsord 26(2), 179-188.
  8. Greenleaf, C., Petrie, T. A., Carter, J., & Reel, J. J. (2009). Female collegiate athletes: Prevalence of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors. Journal of American College Heatlh, 57(5), 489-496.
  9. Jankowski, C. (2012). among high school athletes. Yearbook of Sports Medicine, 394-395.
  10. Davison, K. K., Earnest, M. B., & Birch, L. L. (2002). Participation in aesthetic sports and girls’ weight concerns at ages 5 and 7 years. The International journal of eating disorders, 31(3), 312–317.