Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, but they can also affect a person’s physical health. Disordered eating can lead to malnutrition and bone loss, as well as mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and difficulty with concentration.
Age: It’s not just a matter of who develops eating disorders—it’s also important to remember that different age groups have higher rates of disordered eating. For example, teens are at an increased risk for developing eating disorders because their bodies change rapidly, they feel the pressure to fit into a socially defined body type, and they are more likely to engage in harmful behaviors related to weight, body image, and food.
Dieting: It’s not surprising that young people who try dangerous diets are more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who don’t attempt them. In fact, in a study of 14- and 15-year-olds, dieting was the most important predictor of eating disorders.
Obesity: A significant number of young adults are overweight or obese, including many people with eating disorders. The reasons for this are not clear but some of them include fast food, snacks that contain high amounts of sugar and fat, a lack of exercise, and an overly sedentary lifestyle.
Binge Eating: Men and women tend to have higher binge eating rates than other forms of disordered eating. This disorder is most often seen in late teens and early 20s but can occur at any age. Bulimia is an extreme form of binge eating where a person will use behaviors to compensate for binging such as vomiting, using laxatives, overexercising, and/or taking weight loss medications.
Gay/Queer Youth: The LGBTQIA+ community has a higher rate of eating disorders than cis-gendered and heterosexual peers. This may be due to internalized negative messages, discrimination, bullying, and/or discordance between biological sex and gender identity.
Athletes: National or Division 1 athletes are at an increased risk for developing an eating disorder because of the competitive environment in which they participate, as well as the stress and pressure they face to perform. Unfortunately, only about 4% of these athletes receive treatment for their disordered eating habits.
Overweight: The rate of obesity among adolescent girls and boys is greater than that of the general population, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. These individuals are often overweight or obese because they eat more than healthy eaters, have more time spent in front of television sets and computers, and spend less time exercising.
Males: Almost 10% of those diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are males. This may be because males have a harder time fitting into a society that values strong, powerful, and athletic bodies.
Gender Differences: Eating disorders tend to be more common in females because of the way our culture defines and values women. While some of these women may have other concerns and issues, most of them are attempting to fit into an image that doesn’t match their true identity.
Eating disorders can be treated through a combination of therapy, medical care, and nutritional counseling. It is vital to seek a multidisciplinary team of experts for the best results.