Eating disorders can affect anyone, of any age, gender or sexual orientation. However, they most often develop during adolescence and young adulthood. This is partly because the body undergoes major changes during these years, and people may become dissatisfied with their bodies. However, not everyone who is dissatisfied with their body will develop an eating disorder.
There are many risk factors for developing an eating disorder. Some of these include:
Genetics: Evidence suggests that about 50 to 80% of the risk for developing an eating disorder is due to genes. In addition, people who have a first-degree relative (sibling or parent) with an eating disorder are 10 times more likely to develop an eating disorder themselves.
Physical abuse: It is believed that a significant number of eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are caused by a traumatic event such as physical abuse or sexual assault. It is thought that this leads to the development of an eating disorder in an attempt to cope with painful emotions.
Sexual orientation: Research shows that some people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender may have higher rates of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders than other people. This may be partly because they are less likely to have access to good health care and are more likely to use substances such as cocaine, heroin or alcohol.
Athletes: Those who participate in sport, particularly gymnastics or basketball, are at an increased risk of developing an eating disorder. This is partly because they are more likely to have high levels of body fat and also because they can be pushed too hard by coaches or parents.
Prescription medications: Certain medications can increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder. For example, drugs used to treat psychiatric conditions such as depression or anxiety can cause a person to restrict their food and lose weight. In addition, antidepressants and other drugs used for ADHD can lead to anorexia nervosa.
Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED): This includes symptoms such as binge-eating, bulimia and distorted eating patterns that do not fit into any of the other diagnostic criteria for anorexia, bulimia or ANA. People with this condition may be at risk of developing other psychiatric illnesses, such as PTSD, OCD and bipolar disorder.
Despite the fact that eating disorders most frequently affect young women and girls, they can occur at any age. In fact, they can be diagnosed in children as young as 6 and some studies report cases of eating disorders in people in their 70s. In addition, they can affect any race or ethnicity. However, it is important to note that people of all ages are more likely to receive appropriate diagnosis and treatment if they are referred by their healthcare provider. NEDA’s body image and eating disorder prevention work is designed to help people of all ages make positive choices about their bodies and diets. The most effective prevention and treatment approaches involve a team of professionals including a doctor, registered dietitian and mental health provider.