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How Common Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are serious, chronic illnesses that greatly impact a person’s mental and physical health and quality of life. At times fatal, eating disorders are complex and can be challenging to overcome. Here are the latest eating disorder facts and statistics.

  • Between 2018-2019, nearly 2 out of 100 people in the U.S. (5.48 million people) were living with eating disorders. [1]
  • Females were more likely to be affected by eating disorders, at 2.62% (4.39 million people). [1]
  • Approximately 1.09 million males had eating disorders (0.67%). [1]
  • Looking at lifetime prevalence, nearly 1 in 10 females (8.60%) and 1 in 20 males (4.07%) will have an eating disorder during their lifetime. [1]
  • The percentage of people living with eating disorders in the U.S. is expected to rise. [1]
  • Eating disorders most commonly affect young women aged 20-24 and women aged 25-29. [1]
  • The most common eating disorder as of 2019 was Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED). [1]

How Serious Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are very dangerous and can be deadly.

  • One person dies every 52 minutes from an eating disorder. [1]
  • Eating disorders have the highest case fatality rates of any mental illness. [2]
  • Eating disorder mortality rates are shown to be nearly six times higher for individuals with anorexia nervosa and nearly twice as high for those with bulimia nervosa, compared to the general population. [1]
  • One in five people with anorexia nervosa die by suicide. [3]
  • People with eating disorders are 20.1% less likely to be employed than others, leading to lost wages and other setbacks. [4, 5]
  • Black, Indigenous, (and) people of color are half as likely to have their eating disorder be diagnosed or receive treatment. [1]

What are Risk Factors for Eating Disorders?

There are many reasons why people develop eating disorders. They are considered to be the result of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors.

  • Multiple research studies have identified a number of eating disorder risk factors, including:
    • Genetics [6, 7, 8, 9]
    • Gender (particularly for anorexia and bulimia) [10]
    • Ethnicity
    • Early childhood eating and gastrointestinal problems
    • Negative self-evaluation
    • Participation in sports focusing on weight (aesthetics or requirements) [11]
    • Sexual abuse and other adverse life events [12, 13]
  • Anxiety disorders (particularly social anxiety) have been shown to commonly precede eating disorders. [14, 15]
  • In one study of nearly 300,000 college students, those identifying as LGBTQ+ reported higher rates of self-reported eating disorders and compensatory behaviors. [16]
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Yes, You Can Overcome an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders do not discriminate. They affect people of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and income levels. No one is immune to developing eating disorder symptoms.

Here's the good news: eating disorder treatment at Eating Recovery Center has been shown to significantly stabilize weight and reduce depression, anxiety and psychological distress in children, adolescents and adults. [17]

To learn more about treatment, please call us at 877-825-8584 to schedule a free confidential consultation with an Eating Recovery Center Masters-level clinician. We’re here to help you along the path to a full and lasting recovery.


[1] Deloitte Access Economics. The Social and Economic Cost of Eating Disorders in the United States of America: A Report for the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders and the Academy for Eating Disorders. June 2020.

[2] Smink, F. R., Van Hoeken, D., & Hoek, H. W. (2012). Epidemiology of eating disorders: incidence, prevalence and mortality rates. Current psychiatry reports, 14(4), 406-414.

[3] Arcelus J, et al. Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. A meta- analysis of 36 studies. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(7):724–31.

[4] Alegria et al. (2016), Collaborative Psychiatric Surveys (CPES), 2001-2003.

[5] Samnaliev, M., Noh, H. L., Sonneville, K. R., & Austin, S. B. (2014). The economic burden of eating disorders and related mental health comorbidities: An exploratory analysis using the US Medical Expenditures Panel Survey. Preventive medicine reports, 2, 32-34.

[6] Hübel, C., Leppä, V., Breen, G. and Bulik, C.M., (2018). Rigor and reproducibility in genetic research on eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 51(7), pp.593-607

[7] Polderman, T.J., Benyamin, B., De Leeuw, C.A., Sullivan, P.F., Van Bochoven, A., Visscher, P.M. and Posthuma, D., (2015). Meta-analysis of the heritability of human traits based on fifty years of twin studies. Nature genetics, 47(7), p.702.

[8] Duncan, L., Yilmaz, Z., Gaspar, H., Walters, R., Goldstein, J., Anttila, V., Bulik-Sullivan, B., Ripke, S., Eating Disorders Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, Thornton, L. and Hinney, A., (2017). Significant locus and metabolic genetic correlations revealed in genome-wide association study of anorexia nervosa. American journal of psychiatry, 174(9), pp.850-858.

[9] Pettersson, E., Lichtenstein, P., Larsson, H., Song, J., Agrawal, A., Børglum, A.D., Bulik, C.M., Daly, M.J., Davis, L.K., Demontis, D. and Edenberg, H.J., (2019). Genetic influences on eight psychiatric disorders based on family data of 4 408 646 full and half-siblings, and genetic data of 333 748 cases and controls. Psychological medicine, 49(7), pp.1166-1173.

[10] Weissman, R. S. (2019). The Role of Sociocultural Factors in the Etiology of Eating Disorders. Psychiatr Clin North Am, 42(1), 121-144. doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2018.10.009

[11] Neyland H, et al, (2020). Parental deployment and distress, and adolescent disordered eating in prevention- seeking military dependents. International Journal of Eating Disorders, vol 53, no. 2, pp.201-209.

[12] Jacobi, C., Hayward, C., de Zwaan, M., Kraemer, H. C., & Agras, W. S. (2004). Coming to terms with risk factors for eating disorders: application of risk terminology and suggestions for a general taxonomy. Psychol Bull, 130(1), 19-65.

[13] Culbert, K. M., Racine, S. E., & Klump, K. L. (2015). Research Review: What we have learned about the causes of eating disorders - a synthesis of sociocultural, psychological, and biological research. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 56(11), 1141-1164.

[14] Bulik, C.M., (2002). Anxiety, depression and eating disorders. Eating disorders and obesity: A comprehensive handbook, 2(1), pp.193-198.

[15] Swinbourne, J.M. and Touyz, S.W., (2007). The co‐morbidity of eating disorders and anxiety disorders: A review. European Eating Disorders Review: The Professional Journal of the Eating Disorders Association, 15(4), pp.253-274.

[16] Diemer EW, Grant JD, Munn-Chernoff MA, Patterson DA, Duncan AE. (2015). Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, and Eating-related Pathology in a National Sample of College Students. J Adoles Health. 57(2);144-149.

[17] Eating Recovery Center (2019). Treatment Outcomes Report.

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