Eating Disorders Statistics

According to eating disorders statistics estimated by the National Eating Disorder Association, in the USA up to 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. Worldwide the figure is more like 70 million sufferers!

The problem with statistics on eating disorders is that many sufferers do not come forward for diagnosis due to embarrassment, denial or confusion as to what their symptoms are. Eating disorders can differ vastly in the expression of symptoms and behaviors, and just because a person does not fit into the DSM-5 classification does not mean that they do not have an eating disorder. DSM-5 is the manual used by mental health professionals in the U.S. to classify mental disorders.

Males are often one of the least diagnosed populations of people with eating disorders. This is probably due to shame about admitting to what is wrongly assumed to be a disorder that only affects women. For this reason, the number of men with eating disorders is probably much higher than the statistics claim.

Eating Disorders Statistics and Facts.

  • Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness (1).
  • An estimated 0.5 to 3.7 percent of women suffer from anorexia nervosa at some point in their lifetime. Research suggests that about 1 percent of female adolescents have anorexia (2).
  • An estimated 1.1 to 4.2 percent of women have bulimia nervosa in their lifetime.
  • Lifetime prevalence of binge eating disorder is 3.5% in women, and 2.0% in men (3).
  • Onset of anorexia nervosa is most commonly around the same time as puberty.
  • Binge Eating Disorder was found to usually start during late adolescence or in the early twenties (4).
  • A study in 2003 found that people with anorexia are 56 times more likely to commit suicide than non-sufferers (5).
  • Alcohol and substance abuse are four times more prevalent amongst people that suffer eating disorders (6).
  • Hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under the age of 12 years old increased by 119 percent between the years of 1999 and 2006 (7).
  • Twin studies show that there is a significant genetic component to eating disorders (8).
  • In childhood (5-12 years), the ratio of girls to boys diagnosed with AN or BN is 5:1, whereas in adolescents and adults, the ratio is much larger – 10 females to every one male (9).
  • Young women with anorexia are 12 times more likely to die than are other women the same age that don’t have anorexia (10).
  • The most common eating disorder in the United States is binge eating disorder (BED). It is estimated that 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and 30% to 40% of those seeking weight loss treatments can be clinically diagnosed with binge eating disorder (17).

Statistics and Facts on Dieting and Disordered Eating.

Disordered eating is different than an eating disorder. A person who worries about their looks and as a result their eating patterns are disrupted, but does not have an eating disorder, might fall into this category.

  • 51% of girls 9 and 10 years old feel better about themselves when they are dieting (11).
  • A 2002 study of boys in grades 9 and 10 found that 4% of them reported anabolic steroid use. This shows that body preoccupation and efforts to change one’s body are concerns that affect both women and men (12).
  • 40% of girls in grade ten and 37% of girls in grade nine thought of themselves as being too fat. Of those students that were “normal weight” based on their BMI, 19% still thought that they were too fat, and 12% of the students admitted to trying to lose weight (13).
  • Body-based bullying can have a severe impact on a girls’ attitude and behavior. Girls who suffered teasing by members of their families were 1.5 times more likely to try binge eating and/or other dangerous weight-control methods within five years (14).
  • 91% of women who were surveyed on a college campus had tried to control their weight by dieting, and 22% of them dieted “often” or all the time (15).

Statistics on Eating Disorders Recovery

  • With treatment, 60% of eating disorder sufferers make a full recovery.
  • Without treatment 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from eating disorder related health complications, including suicide and heart problems (16).
  • Inpatient treatment of an eating disorder in the US ranges from $500 – $2,000 per day. Long-term outpatient treatment, including therapy and medical monitoring, can cost $100,000 or more. Thankfully insurance companies now usually cover eating disorder treatment.
  • Only one in ten sufferers will seek and receive treatment.
  • Treatment is most successful when intervention is early.
  • Eating disorders statistics tell us that in order for treatment to be successful, it must be multifaceted. It must include medical care, mental health care, and nutritional education and counseling.
  • Long term treatment is often needed; eating disorders require ongoing care.
  • Eating disorders research is very under-funded. The National Institute of Health allocates only 93 cents towards research funding for every person diagnosed with an eating disorder. In comparison, they give $88 for every person diagnosed with autism. This is painfully low.

You can follow these links to see charts and graphs on eating disorders or to get the definitions of eating disorders. Here is more information on eating disorders and suicide.

If you would like to get involved with eating disorder advocacy, follow the link for more information. You can make a difference.

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Written by Tabitha Farrar – May, 2014


1. Arcelus, Mitchell, Wales, & Nielsen, 2011

2. The Nat’l Institute of Mental Health: “Eating Disorders: Facts About Eating Disorders and the Search for Solutions.” Pub. 2002

3. February 2007 edition of Biological Psychiatry.

4. American Psychiatric Assoc. Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th Edition. Wash. DC, 1994.

5. Archives of General Psychiatry (Vol. 60, No. 2)

6. Harrop & Marlatt, 2010

7. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

8. Steiner, Kwan, Shaffer, Walker, Miller, Sagar, and Lock. (2003). Risk and protective factors for juvenile eating disorders. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 12, 38-46.

9. Public Health Agency of Canada. Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program, 2003 Results

10. Mortality in Anorexia Nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 152(7), 1073-1074.

11. LM, Irwin CE & Scully S: Disordered eating characteristics in girls: A survey of middle class children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1992

12. Boyce, W. F. (2004). Young people in Canada: their health and well-being. Ottawa, Ontario: Health Canada.

13. Boyce, W. F., King, M. A. & Roche, J. (2008). Healthy Living and Healthy Weight. In Healthy Settings for Young People in Canada.

14. Neumark-Sztainer, D. R., Wall, M. M., Haines, J. I., Story, M. T., Sherwood, N. E., van den Berg, P. A. (2007). Shared Risk and Protective Factors for Overweight and Disordered Eating in Adolescents. American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

15. Interview validation of survey data. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 1995

16. The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders.

17. National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)