Eating disorders affect people of all races, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds. They cause significant morbidity, malnutrition and mortality. Although it is difficult to predict who will get an ED, there are certain groups of individuals who are at higher risk. Some of the factors that contribute to these rates include personality traits, environmental factors, genetics, and underlying complications. Many treatment options are available to youth. However, the most effective approach is to prevent disordered eating early on. It is important to understand the demographic sectors where the problem exists, so that we can develop targeted prevention campaigns and treatment programs that will reach a wider community.
One method to investigate ED rates is to use the DAWBA score, which measures a person’s probability of a probable ED. Using this measure, 13% of respondents screened positive for probable EDs. Similarly, 16.2% of the sample met the SCOFF screening criteria for disordered eating.
The prevalence of objective binge eating, a behavioral measure used in ED diagnosis, was higher in 2008 than in 1998. Prevalence was also significantly higher in metropolitan areas, in both urban and rural regions, and for participants earning below the median household income. In addition, the odds ratio for extreme dieting was higher for men than women. For those who earned less than the median household income, extreme dieting was associated with a greater physical health-related quality of life impairment.
These results suggest that the burden of disordered eating is greatest in marginalized groups. This might be attributed to lower levels of access to specialized care and existing resources. Other possible explanations are the narrow demographic target for ED treatment and the presence of a stigma associated with EDs in males.
Despite the fact that most studies of eating disorders in youth focus on females, this study shows that males are at risk as well. While the risk for bulimia nervosa was higher in women, the rate of EDs in males remained relatively unchanged. As with females, the risk was increased by adverse childhood experiences and social media disorder. Compared to women, men were more likely to screen positive for EDs if their parents had a mental health problem, or if they were bullied or had a history of drug or alcohol abuse.
Furthermore, the study showed that the likelihood of screening positive for EDs was significantly higher in adolescents who lived with both parents. Additionally, smoking was considered a significant predictor, and the risk of screening positive was higher in individuals with a mental health problem, such as Mood and Anxiety Disorder. Regardless of sex, ED behaviors were associated with a negative mental health-related quality of life impairment.
There are many factors that contribute to the prevalence of eating disorders, but the risk of developing an ED is highest for those who are between 14 and 25 years of age. During adolescence, time spent thinking about one’s body is more likely, and a growing focus on ‘peak performance’ can increase the risk of disordered eating. Developing a better understanding of the population of young people at high risk for EDs can help future prevention and treatment programs.