National Eating Disorders Association

Eating disorders have historically been associated with straight, young, white females, but in reality, they affect people from all demographics and they are not caused by any single factor. They arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors. Misconceptions about who eating disorders affect have real consequences, leading to fewer diagnoses, treatment options, and pathways to help for those who don’t fit the stereotype.

  • Despite similar rates of eating disorders among non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians in the United States, people of color are significantly less likely to receive help for their eating issues.
  • Although eating disorders affect a higher proportion of males who identify as gay or bisexual than females, the majority of males with eating disorders are straight.
  • 15% of gay and bisexual men and 4.6% of heterosexual men had a full or subthreshold eating disorder at some point in their lives.
  • Black teenagers are 50% more likely than white teenagers to exhibit bulimic behavior, such as binging and purging.
  • In a study of adolescents, researchers found that Hispanics were significantly more likely to suffer from bulimia nervosa than their non-Hispanic peers. The researchers also reported a trend towards a higher prevalence of binge eating disorder in all minority groups.
  • From 1999 to 2009, hospitalizations involving eating disorders increased for all age groups, but hospitalizations for patients aged 45-65 increased the most, by 88 percent. In 2009, people over the age of 45 accounted for 25% of eating disorder-related hospitalizations.
  • Teenage girls from low-income families are 153% more likely to be bulimic than girls from wealthy families.
  • From 1999 to 2009, the number of men hospitalized for an eating disorder-related cause increased by 53%.
  • A 2014 study found that rates of disordered eating have increased across all demographic sectors, but at a faster rate in male, lower socioeconomic, and older participants.
  • In a survey of college students, transgender students were significantly more likely than members of any other group  to report an eating disorder diagnosis in the past year.
  • A study of 2,822 students on a large university campus found that 3.6% of males had positive screens for eating disorders. The female-to-male ratio was 3-to-1.

References:

Becker, A. E., Franko, D. L., Speck, A., & Herzog, D. B. (2003). Ethnicity and differential access to care for eating disorder symptoms. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 33(2), 205-212. doi:10.1002/eat.10129 

Diemer, E. W., Grant, J. D., Munn-Chernoff, M. A., Patterson, D. A., & Duncan, A. E. (2015). Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, and Eating-Related Pathology in a National Sample of College Students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 57(2), 144-149. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.03.003

Eisenberg, D., Nicklett, E. J., Roeder, K., & Kirz, N. E. (2011). Eating Disorder Symptoms Among College Students: Prevalence, Persistence, Correlates, and Treatment-Seeking. Journal of American College Health, 59(8), 700-707. doi:10.1080/07448481.2010.546461 

Feldman, M. B. and Meyer, I. H. (2007), Eating disorders in diverse lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 40: 218–226.

Goeree, Michelle Sovinsky, Ham, John C., &  Iorio, Daniela. (2011). Race, Social Class, and Bulimia Nervosa. IZA Discussion Paper No. 5823. Retrieved from http://ftp.iza.org/dp5823.pdf.

Marques, L., Alegria, M., Becker, A. E., Chen, C., Fang, A., Chosak, A., & Diniz, J. B. (2011). Comparative Prevalence, Correlates of Impairment, and Service Utilization for Eating Disorders across U.S. Ethnic Groups: Implications for Reducing Ethnic Disparities in Health Care Access for Eating Disorders. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 44(5), 412–420. http://doi.org/10.1002/eat.20787 

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). doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-943

Strother, E., Lemberg, R., Stanford, S. C., & Turberville, D. (2012). Eating Disorders in Men: Underdiagnosed, Undertreated, and Misunderstood. Eating Disorders, 20(5), 346-355. doi:10.1080/10640266.2012.715512

Swanson SA, Crow SJ, Le Grange D, Swendsen J, and Merikangas KR. (2011). Prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in adolescents. Results from the national comorbidity survey replication adolescent supplement. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68(7):714-23.

Wade, T. D., Keski-Rahkonen A., & Hudson J. (2011).Epidemiology of eating disorders. In M. Tsuang and M. Tohen (Eds.), Textbook in Psychiatric Epidemiology (3rd ed.) (pp. 343-360). New York: Wiley.

Zhao, Y., Encinosa, W. Update on Hospitalizations for Eating Disorders, 1999 to 2009. HCUP Statistical Brief #120. September, 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb120.pdf