Which Age Group Has the Highest Rate of Disordered Eating?

The answer to this question is complex, but a few trends emerge. The highest rates of disordered eating are found among adolescents and young adults. In the US, over 10 million people are living with an eating disorder at any given time. And, the mortality rate from these conditions is higher than that of breast cancer and AIDS combined. Binge-eating disorder (BED) is the most common form of eating disorder, and it’s also the deadliest. It’s three times more common than anorexia and bulimia nervosa combined, yet only about 6% of people with BED receive a diagnosis.

A disproportionate number of people with an eating disorder have a co-occurring mood disorder. Depression is the most commonly seen, but other disorders like bipolar disorder and anxiety are also more prevalent in this group. It’s important for people with eating disorders to get treatment for both of these issues, and to seek help for any other mental health problems they might be experiencing.

College-age students are particularly at risk for developing an eating disorder. The combination of living independently, stress from school and body image pressures from peers can be a perfect storm for triggering an eating disorder. In addition, the high percentage of females in college can reinforce a negative perception of weight and body size.

Young women ages 18 to 24 have the highest rate of anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders. This is due to a combination of factors, including societal and peer pressure to be thin, low body weight at puberty, and a history of family members with eating disorders. In one study, over half of women with anorexia and bulimia had a sibling or a parent with an eating disorder.

In comparison, about 25% of women and 20% of men who have an eating disorder have a major depressive disorder. This is likely due to a mix of factors, such as a lower socioeconomic status, cultural values that place a high importance on appearance, and genetic predisposition to depression.

People with a physical disability are at higher risk for developing an eating disorder. For example, a person with type 1 diabetes may restrict insulin to lose weight, which can lead to an eating disorder. The same is true of people with other chronic illnesses, such as arthritis, which can often cause food restrictions.

Eating disorders are more prevalent in white females, but that doesn’t mean other racial and ethnic groups don’t experience the same risk as they do. In fact, recent research has shown that Hispanic females are at a higher risk of having an eating disorder than their white counterparts. Hispanic girls tend to have lower body weights and have a higher internalization of the thin ideal in Western media, which can increase their risk for eating disorders.



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