Home Key Research & Statistics

This page highlights some of the key current statistics around eating disorders. For a more general overview of eating disorders, please see:

Overview of eating disorders today

  • Between 1995 and 2005 the prevalence of disordered eating behaviours doubled among both males and females 1
  • Eating disorders are increasing in both younger and older age groups 1
  • Eating disorders occur in both males and females before puberty, with the ratio of males to females approximately 1:10 during adolescence and decreasing to 1:20 during young adulthood 2
  • At the end of 2012 it was estimated that eating disorders affected nearly 1 million Australians 1
  • Prevalence of eating disorders is increasing amongst boys and men 1
  • 90% of cases of anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) occur in females 1
  • Approximately 15% of women experience an eating disorder at some point during their life 1
  • An estimated 20% of females have an undiagnosed eating disorder 3
  • Younger adolescents tend to present with anorexia, while older adolescents may present with either bulimia or anorexia 4
  • Eating disorders are the 3rd most common chronic illness in young females 3
  • Risk of premature death from an eating disorder is 6-12 times higher than the general population 3
  • Eating disorders are ranked 12th among the leading causes of hospitalization costs due to mental health 1
  • Eating disorders can be considered to exist within a spectrum, with 10-30% of patients crossing over between anorexic and bulimic tendencies during the course of their illness 5
  • Depression is experienced by approximately 45% to 86% of individuals with an eating disorder 6
  • Anxiety disorder is experienced by approximately 64% of individuals with an eating disorder 7
  • Approximately 58% of individuals with eating disorders have a comorbid Personality disorder 8
  • Sufferers typically deny they have an eating disorder 9
  • According to the National Eating Disorder Association, in the United States, eating disorders are more common than Alzheimer's disease (5-10 million people have eating disorders compared to 4 million with Alzheimer's disease) 10
  • In 1998, 38 months after television first came to Nadroga, Fiji, 15% of girls, aged 17 on the average, admitted to vomiting to control weight. 74% of girls reported feeling "too big and fat" at least sometimes. Fiji has only one TV channel, which broadcasts mostly American, Australian, and British programs 11



  • Based on international data, the lifetime prevalence for females is between .3% and 1.5%, and between 0.1% and 0.5% in males 12
  • Approximately one in 100 adolescent girls develops anorexia nervosa 13
  • One in ten young adults and approximately 25% of children diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are male 14
  • Anorexia has the highest mortality rate on any psychiatric disorder 3
  • 1 in 5 premature deaths of individuals with Anorexia Nervosa are caused by suicide 3
  • Among 15-24 year old females, AN has a standardized mortality rate that is 12 times the annual mortality rate from all causes 15
  • The onset of anorexia usually occurs during adolescents with a median age of 17 16
  • The average duration is 7 years. Those who recover are unlikely to return to normal health 17
  • 40% of people with anorexia nervosa are at risk of developing bulimia nervosa 18
  • Many sufferers develop chronic social problems, which can escalate to the extent experienced by schizophrenic patients 19
  • Morbidity includes osteoporosis, anovulation, dysthymia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and social isolation 20
  • Although 70% of patients regain weight within 6 months of onset of treatment, 15-25% of these relapse, usually within 2 years 21



  • The incidence of bulimia nervosa in the Australian population is 5 in 100. At least two studies have indicated that only about one tenth of the cases of bulimia in the community are detected 23
  • True incidence estimated to be 1 in 5 amongst students and women (NEDC) 1
  • Based on international data, the lifetime prevalence in females is between .9% and 2.1%, and <.1% to 1.1% in males 12
  • The onset of bulimia nervosa usually occurs between 16 and 18 years of age 24
  • It is common for people suffering from bulimia to keep their disorder hidden for 8-10 years, at great cost to their physical and psychological health 25
  • 92% of people with bulimia said that seeking help was entirely their own choice whereas only 19% of people with anorexia agreed 26
  • 83% of bulimic patients vomit, 33% abuse laxatives, and 10% take diet pills 27
  • The mortality rate for bulimia nervosa is estimated to be up to 19% 28
  • People with bulimia may have had one or several suicide attempts and there is a high incidence of depression amongst bulimia sufferers 29
  • 70% of individuals who undertake treatment for bulimia nervosa report a significant improvement in their symptoms 30
  • Bulimia can become a means of coping with stressful situations, such as an unhappy relationship or a traumatic past event 31
  • Impulsivity and substance abuse is correlated with bulimia 32


Binge Eating Disorder

  • Binge Eating disorder is characterised by recurrent binge eating without using compensatory measures such as vomiting, laxative abuse or excessive exercise to counter the binge 33
  • Based on international data, the lifetime prevalence in females is between 2.5% and 4.5%, and 1.0% and 3.0% in males 12
  • The prevalence of binge eating disorder in the general population is estimated to be 4%
  • The incidence of binge eating disorder in males and females is almost equal 34
  • The disorder often develops in late adolescents and early 20's 35
  • People with binge eating disorder are at risk of developing a variety of different medical conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, gallbladder disease, heart disease and certain types of cancers 36
  • Potential risk factors include obesity, being overweight as a child, strict dieting, and a history of depression, anxiety and low self esteem 37


Risk Factors Developing an Eating Disorder

  • Eating disorders may arise from a variety of different causes and while they sometimes begin with a preoccupation with food and weight they are often about much more than food 40
  • Adolescents with diabetes may be at 4-times the risk 3
  • Females with diabetes and Anorexia Nervosa are at 15.7 higher risk of mortality than females with diabetes alone 3


Weight Loss Dieting

  • Dieting is the single most important risk factor for developing an eating disorder. 68% of 15 year old females are on a diet, of these, 8% are severely dieting. Adolescent girls who diet only moderately, are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who don't diet, and those who diet severely are 18 time more likely to develop an eating disorder 41
  • Research has shown that the traditional dieting approach of restricting both calories and food types shows poor results in achieving long-term weight loss. Within five years, many dieters regain any weight they lose and often end up heavier than when they began. They also tend to develop very unhealthy attitudes towards food and to lose their natural ability to recognise when they are hungry or full 42
  • Young Australian women who start dieting before the age of 15 are more likely to experience depression, binge eating, purging, and physical symptoms such as tiredness, low iron levels and menstrual irregularities 43
  • Women who diet frequently (more than 5 times) are 75% more likely to experience depression 44
  • A Victorian study of adolescents aged 12 to 17 years classified 38% of girls and 12% of boys as "intermediate" to "extreme" dieters (i.e., at risk of an eating disorder)45
  • A Sydney study of adolescents aged 11 to 15 reported that 16% of the girls and 7% of the boys had already employed at least one potentially dangerous method of weight reduction, including starvation, vomiting and laxative abuse 46
  • A sample of women from the general population aged 18 to 42 years found the point prevalence for the regular use of specific weight control methods was 4.9% for excessive exercise, 3.4% for extreme restrictive eating, 2.2% for diet pills, 1.4% for self-induced vomiting, 1.0% for laxative misuse, and .3% for diuretic misuse 47
  • 31% of young women surveyed between 18 and 23 reported that at some time they had at least experimented with unhealthy eating behaviours including making themselves purge, deliberately abusing laxatives or diuretics, or fasting for at least 24 hours in order to lose weight 48
  • Dieting to control weight in adolescence is not only ineffective, it may actually promote weight gain A study of adolescents showed that after 3 years of follow-up, regular adolescent dieters gained more weight than non-dieters 49
  • High frequency dieting and early onset of dieting are associated with poorer physical and mental health, more disordered eating, extreme body dissatisfaction, and more frequent general health problems 50
  • Amongst 12 to 17 year olds, 90% of females and 68% of males have been on a diet of some kind 51


Body image pressure on young people (a socio-cultural risk factor)

  • In Australians aged 11-24, approximately 28% of males are dissatisfied with their appearance compared to 35% of females 12
  • The Australian National Survey, revealed that body image was identified as the number one concern of 29,000 males and females 12
  • The Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, found that only 22% of women within a normal healthy weight range reported being happy with their weight. Almost three quarters (74%) desired to weigh less, including 68% of healthy weight and 25% underweight women 12
  • Low self esteem increases the chance of developing disordered eating 52
  • Poor body image is associated with an increased probability of engaging in dangerous dietary practices and weight control methods, excessive exercise, substance abuse and unnecessary surgery to alter appearance 12
  • A recent survey of 600 Australian children found that increasingly, children are disturbed by the relentless pressure of marketing aimed at them. A large majority (88%) believed that companies tried to sell them things that they do not really need 53
  • A large number (41%) of children are specifically worried about the way they look with 35% concerned about being overweight (44% of girls and 27% of boys) and 16% being too skinny 54
  • A 2007 Sydney University study of nearly 9,000 adolescents showed one in five teenage girls starved themselves or vomit up their food to control their weight. Eight per cent of girls used smoking for weight control 55
  • In a 2006 AC Nielsen survey conducted to judge if current models were too thin, 94% of people in Norway, 92 % in New Zealand and Switzerland and 90 % in Australia said the models could do with more flesh 56
  • Beyond Stereotypes, the 2005 study commissioned by Dove surveyed 3,300 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 64 in 10 countries. They found that 67% of all women 15 to 64 withdraw from life-engaging activities due to feeling badly about their looks 57


Hereditability /Personality

  • Research on the genetic basis of eating disorders suggests that genes may account for 31%-76% of the variance in Anorexia Nervosa, between 28%-83% of the variance in Bulimia Nervosa, and 17%-39% of variance in Binge Eating Disorder 58
  • A twin study published in the American Journal of psychiatry found that genetic factors have a significant influence on the development of Anorexia nervosa, with an estimated hereditability of 58% 59
  • Adolescents with anorexia are usually high achievers and are often involved in a number of extracurricular activities such as tutoring, volunteer work and community leadership, as the driven focus required to successfully maintain an eating disorder extends to other areas of their lives. They tend to be perfectionists, have internalizing coping styles and obsessive behaviours, often with co morbid mood symptoms such as depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCO) 60
  • Patients with Bulimia have been described as having difficulties with impulse regulation 61 Protective Factors • Protective factors have been less studied in comparison to risk factors 62
  • Individual protective factors include high self-esteem, emotional well-being, positive body image, assertiveness, problem-solving skills, media literacy, good social skills and successfully performing multiple social roles, academic achievement 63
  • Social protective factors include belonging to a family environment that does not overemphasise weight and physical appearance, eating meals together on a regular basis 63
  • A longitudinal study into the associations between family meal frequency and disordered eating behaviors in adolescents found that regular family meals during adolescence play a protective role for extreme weight control behaviors in adolescent girls but not boys 64
  • Socio-cultural protective factors include cultural acceptance of a diversity of body shapes and sizes, sporting contexts that value performance and not merely physical attractiveness and aesthetics, relationships with others that are not highly concerned with weight and shape, and social support 65



  1. The National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2012). An Integrated Response to Complexity – National Eating Disorders Framework 2012.
  2. Kohn, M & Golden, NH. (2001). Eating disorders in children and adolescents: epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment. Paediatric Drugs, 3(2),  91-9.
  3. The National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2012). Eating Disorders in Australia. Retrieved from http://www.nedc.com.au/eating-disorders-in-australia
  4. Gonzalez, A, Kohn, MR & Clarke, SD.(2007). Eating disorders in adolescents.  Australian Family Physician, 36 (8), 614-9.
  5. Ibid.
  6. O’Brien, K.M.O., & Vincent, N.K. (2003). Psychiatric comorbidity in anorexia and bulimia nervosa: Nature, prevalence, and causal relationships. Clinical Pyschology Review, 23, 57-74.
  7. Kaye, W.H., Bulik, C.M., Thornton, L., Barbarich, N., Masters, K., & Price Foundation Collaborative Group. (2004). Comorbidity of anxiety disorders with anorexia and bulimia nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 2215-2221.
  8. Rosenvinge, J.H., Martinussen, M., & Ostensen, E. (2000). The comorbidity of eating disorders and personality disorders: A meta-analytic review of studies published between 1983 and 1998. Eating and Weight Disorders, 5, 52-61.
  9. Hillege, S, Beale, B & McMaster, R (2006). Impact of eating disorders on family life: individual parents' stories. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 15 (8), 1016-22.
  10. National Eating Disorder Association http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
  11. 1999 study published by Anne Becker, director of research at the Harvard Eating Disorders Center, http://archives.focus.hms.harvard.edu/1998/Nov27_1998/eat.html
  12. The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (2010). Eating Disorders Prevention, Treatment & Management: An Evidence Review. Retrieved from http://www.nedc.com.au/nedc-publications.
  13. Eating Disorders (1994).  National Institute of Mental Health, NIH Publication No 94-3477.
  14. Paxton, S. (1998). Do men get eating disorders? Everybody Newsletter of Body image and Health Inc., p. 41.
  15. Sullivan, P. (1995). Mortality in Anorexia Nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 153, 1073-1074.
  16. Steiner, H, Kwan, W, Shaffer, TG, Walker, S, Miller, S, Sagar, A & Lock, J Ibid.'Risk and protective factors for juvenile eating disorders', vol. 12 Suppl 1, pp. I36-8.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Beumont, PJV & Touyz, SW Ibid. 'What kind of illness is anorexia nervosa?' vol. 12, pp. I/20-4.
  19. Hamburg, P & Werne, J. (1996). 'How long is long-term therapy for anorexia nervosa?' in Treating eating disorders., Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, US, pp. 71-99.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Hillege, S, Beale, B & McMaster, R. (2006). Impact of eating disorders on family life: individual parents' stories. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 15 (8), 1016-22.
  22. Sullivan, P.F. (1995). Mortality in anorexia nervosa.  American Journal Of Psychiatry, 152 (7), 1073-4.
  23. Grilo, C.M., & Masheb, R.M. (2000). Onset of dieting vs. binge eating in outpatients with binge eating disorders. International Journal of Obesity, 24, 404-409.
  24. Understanding Eating Disorders. (1997).  The Eating Disorders Association Resource Centre.
  25. Gaskill, D & Sanders, F. (2000). The Encultured Body: Policy Implications for healthy body image and distorted eating behaviours. Faculty of Health Queensland University of Technology.
  26. Cooke, K.(1997). Real Gorgeous.  Allen & Unwin, Sydney.
  27. Grotheus, K. (1998). Eating Disorders and adolescents: an overview of maladaptive behaviour. Journal of child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing,  11 (4), 146-56.
  28. Management of Mental Disorders. (1997).  World Health Organisation, Darlinghurst.
  29. Edelstein, C.K., Haskew, P. & Kramer, J.P. (1989). Early clues to anorexia and bulimia. Patient Care, 23 (13), 155.
  30. Lindberg, L .& Hjern, A. (2003). Risk factors for anorexia nervosa: a national cohort study.  International Journal of Eating Disorders, 34 (4), 397-408.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Eating Disorders and Binge Eating Information Sheet (2006). The Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria
  33. Wilfley, D.E., Agras, W.S., Telch, C.F., Rossiter, E.M., Schneider, J.A., Cole, A.G., Sifford, L. & Raeburn, S.D. (1993). Group cognitive-behavioral therapy and group interpersonal psychotherapy for the nonpurging bulimic individual: A controlled comparison. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,  61 (2), 296-305.
  34. Paxton, S. (1998).  Do men get eating disorders?  Everybody Newsletter of Body image and Health Inc., p. 41.
  35. The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health. (1996). Universities of Newcastle and Queensland.
  36. Eating Disorders and Binge Eating Information Sheet. (2006). The Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria.
  37. CEED 2008, 'What is an eating disorder?' retrieved 7 August, database.
  38. Patton, G.C., Selzer, R., Coffey, C., Carlin, J.B. & Wolfe, R. (1999). Onset of adolescent eating disorders: population based cohort study over 3 years. British Medical Journal, 318 (7186), 765-8.
  39. Katzer, L, Bradshaw, A, Horwath, C, Gray, A, O'Brien, S & Joyce, J (2008). Evaluation of 'non-dieting', stress reduction program for overweight women: a randomised trial. American Journal of Health Promotion, 22,  264-74.
  40. Lee, C. (2001).  Women's Health Australia: What do we do? What do we need to know?: Progress on the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women's Health 1995-2000, Australian Academic Press Pty Ltd., Brisbane.
  41. Kenardy, J., Brown, W.J. & Vogt, E. (2001). Dieting and health in young Australian women. European Eating Disorders Review,  9 (4), 242.
  42. Patton, G.C., Carlin, J.B., Shao, Q., Hibbert, M.E., Rosier, M., Selzer, R. & Bowes, G. (1997). Adolescent dieting: healthy weight control or borderline eating disorder?  Journal Of Child Psychology And Psychiatry  And Allied Disciplines, 38 (3), 299-306.
  43. O'Dea, J.A. & Abraham, S. (1996). Food habits, body image and weight control practices of young male and female adolescents. Australian Journal of Nutrition & Dietetics, 53 (1), 32.
  44. Mond, J.M., Hay, P.J., Rodgers, B., & Owen, C. (2006). Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire (EDE-Q): Norms for young adult women. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 53-62.
  45. Brown, W. (1998). Is life a party for young women? ACHPER Healthy Lifestyles Journal, 45 (3), 21-6.
  46. Field, A.E., Austin, S.B., Taylor, C.B., Malspeis, S., Rosner, B., Rockett, H.R., Gillman, M.W. & Colditz, G.A. (2003). Relation between dieting and weight change among preadolescents and adolescents. Pediatrics, 112 (4), 900-6.
  47. Kenardy, J., Brown, W.J. & Vogt, E. (2001). Dieting and health in young Australian women. European Eating Disorders Review,  9(4), 242.
  48. Patton, G. C., Carlin, J. B., Shao, Q., Hibbert, M. E., Rosier, M., Selzer, R., & Bowes, G. (1997). Adolescent dieting: Healthy weight control or borderline eating disorder? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 299-306.
  49. Button, E.J., Loan, P., Davies, J. & Sonuga-Barke, E.J.S. (1997). Self-esteem, eating problems, and psychological well-being in a cohort of schoolgirls aged 15-16: a questionnaire and interview study. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 21 (1), 39-47.
  50. Tucci, J, Mitchell, J. & Goddard, C. (2007). Modern Children in Australia.  Australian Childhood Foundation, Melbourne.
  51. Ibid.
  52. O'Dea, J.A. (2007). Everybody's different. ACER Press.
  53. The 2006 Nielsen company survey, covering 25000 respondents in 45 countries.
  54. Beyond Stereotypes, a 2005 study commissioned by Dove
  55. Wade, T. D. (in press). Genetic influences on eating and the eating disorders. In W. S. Agras (Ed)., Oxford handbook of eating disorders. New York: Oxford University Press.
  56. Wade, T.D., Bulik, CM, Neale, M. & Kendler, K.S. (2000). Anorexia nervosa and major depression: shared genetic and environmental risk factors. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157 (3), 469-71.
  57. Gonzalez, A., Kohn, M.R. & Clarke, S.D. (2007). Eating disorders in adolescents. Australian Family Physician, 36 (8),  614-9.
  58. Kohn, M & Golden, N.H. (2001). Eating disorders in children and adolescents: epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment. Paediatric Drugs, 3 (2), 91-9.
  59. Steiner, H., Kwan, W., Shaffer, T. G., Walker, S., Miller, S., Sagar, A., & Lock, J. (2003). Risk and protective factors for juvenile eating disorders. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 12, 38-46.
  60. National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2012). Protective Factors. Retrieved from http://www.nedc.com.au/protective-factors
  61. Neumark-Sztainer, D., Eisenberg, M.E., Fulkerson, J.A., Story, M., & Larson, N.I. (2008) Family meals and disordered eating in adolescents: Longitudinal findings from project EAT. Archives on Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 162(1), 17-22. Retrieved from http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=378850
  62. Shisslak, C.M., & Crago, M. (2001). Risk and protective factors in the development of eating disorders. In J.K Thompson & L.Smolak (Eds), Body image, eating disorders, and obesity in youth: Assessment, prevention, and treatment (pp.103-125). Washington, D.C,: American Psychological Association.


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