Eating Disorders Facts and Statistics

Eating disorders involve extreme attitudes and behaviors towards food, weight, shape and musculature. They are widespread in the U.S., and they are growing more common in younger and older populations, across all genders, and all racial and ethnic spectrums. If you or someone you love has behaviors like restricting or eliminating foods, skipping meals, purging, abusing laxatives or diuretics, exercises despite negative consequences of increased pain and injury, binges on foods often in secret, abuses steroids, and seems to focus on their body image, shape, size and musculature, please seek help. Early intervention makes a difference, and failing to take action can have life-threatening consequences.

General Eating Disorder Statistics

  • Approximately 5.48 million people in the United States are currently diagnosed with an eating disorder (Deloitte Access Economics study, 2020)
  • 30-50% of ED patients suffered depression and/or anxiety prior to the ED
  • About 1 in 3 ED patients suffered previous obsessive-compulsive symptoms
  • 89% of girls have dieted by age 17
  • 42% of girls in grades 1-3 want to lose weight
  • 45% of boys and girls in grades 3-6 want to be thinner
  • 51% of 9 and 10-year-old girls say they feel better about themselves when they are dieting
  • 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat
  • 9% of nine-year-olds have vomited to lose weight
  • The rate of death for women with ED is 12 times higher than other women of similar ages
  • Approximately 20% of people with serious eating disorders die without treatment
  • Only about 6% of individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder are medically “underweight”
  • The economic cost of eating disorders in the US is about $64.7 billion per year due to lost productivity and cost of care

Males Eating Disorder Statistics

  • Males make up about 1 in 3 cases of those diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia
  • Males have near equal rates of binge eating disorder diagnoses as females
  • Males requiring hospitalization for an eating disorder has increased over 400% since the 1990s
  • Males make up about 65% of those diagnosed with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
  • Males are more likely to express their eating disorder thoughts in concepts about leanness and muscularity than concerns about weight, often with a diagnosis of Muscle Dysmorphia rather than an eating disorder. However, the connection to rigid and “unbreakable” rules about meals and food choices put this diagnosis more firmly in the eating disorder category according to research experts.

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Eating Disorder Statistics

  • BIPOC are far less likely to be asked by medical professionals about eating disorder symptoms
  • BIPOC are 50% less likely to be diagnosed or receive care
  • BIPOC experience similar rates of anorexia to their white peers
  • BIPOC have higher rates of binge eating disorder and bulimia than their white peers

LGBTQIA+ Eating Disorder Statistics

  • Gay or bi-sexual males are 3 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than their straight peers
  • Women who are attracted to both sexes or who are unsure about who they are attracted to are more likely to develop an eating disorder than those attracted to only one sex
  • About 16% of those who identify as transgender report being diagnosed with an eating disorder in the last year (a rate more than 5 times higher than the general population)

Older Individuals Eating Disorder Statistics

  • 3.5% of women age 50 and over report binge eating
  • 8% of women over age 50 report purging
  • More than 70% of women over age 50 are trying to lose weight
  • 62% of women over age 50 report weight or shape negatively impacts their life
  • Males report being more dissatisfied with their weight in middle age than women, but women report greater distress about body image than males in middle age despite being less concerned about their weight

Causes of Eating Disorders

In the field of eating disorders, we like to say “genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger.” Studies suggest up to 75% of eating disorders are genetically heritable conditions just like depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. The trigger that fires the eating disorder behavior come from a variety of sources including but limited to:

  • Dieting to look better
  • Using food, exercise, purging and restriction as forms of self-medicating
  • Major life transitions like puberty, entering high school or college or major losses or trauma
  • Family problems
  • Social difficulties like teasing, bullying or ridicule
  • Fear of failure or a need to be perfect
  • Traumatic events like sexual and physical abuse
  • Other psychiatric illnesses like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder (ADHD)
  • Personality traits like low self-esteem, difficulty with change, fear of feeling out of control