Eating Disorder Statistics & Key Research | Eating Disorders Victoria
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Key research and statistics

Home ~ Eating disorders A-Z ~ Key research and statistics

This page provides key research and statistics on issues relating to eating disorders.

Please be aware that some of these statistics relate to confronting issues regarding eating disorder risk factors, suicide/mortality rates and mental illness susceptibility.  

It is important to remember that these figures provide a statistical overview only – eating disorders are highly individual and varied and not all research will be applicable to all. 

Please note: Research on eating disorders in Australia is limited; the below figures are the most recent and relevant information we can find. Please always attribute the statistic to the original source, not Eating Disorders Victoria. 

Overview of eating disorders today

  • The number of people in Australia with an eating disorder at any given time is estimated to be around 1 million, or approximately 4% of the population (Deloitte Access Economics, 2015).
  • Eating disorders, when combined with disordered eating together, are estimated to affect 16.3% of the Australian population (Hay, Girosi and Mond, 2015). 
  • Binge Eating Disorder and Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders are the most common eating disorders, affecting approximately 6% and 5%, of the total population respectively, while Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa each occur in below 1% of the general population (NEDC, 2017). 
  • Lifetime prevalence for eating disorders is approximately 9% of the Australian population (NEDC, 2017). 
  • A recent review found that worldwide, lifetime prevalence of eating disorders was 8.4% (3.3-18.6%) for women and 2.2% (0.8-6.5%) for men. The results also showed that the prevalence has been increasing over time (Galmiche, 2019). 
  • Of people with eating disorders, 47% have Binge Eating Disorder, 12% have Bulimia Nervosa, 3% have Anorexia Nervosa and 38% have other eating disorders (Paxton, 2012).

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses.

Eating disorders aren’t a fad or a diet gone wrong.

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Different types of eating disorders

Binge Eating Disorder 

  • The lifetime prevalence of Binge Eating Disorder for females ranges from 2.5%-4.5% and for men ranges from 1%-3% (Erskine & Whiteford, 2018). 
  • Binge Eating Disorder has the latest average age of onset of all eating disorders estimated to be approximately 25 years of age (Butterfly Foundation, 2012). 

Learn more about Binge Eating Disorder

Anorexia Nervosa

  • Based on international data, the lifetime prevalence of anorexia nervosa for females ranges from 0.3%-1.5% and for males ranges from 0.1%-0.5% (Keski-Rahkonen, Raevuori & Hoek, 2018).
  • The average onset of Anorexia Nervosa is 16-17 years, although more and more younger children are becoming affected (Keski-Rahkonen, Raevuori & Hoek, 2018). 

Learn more about Anorexia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa 

  • Based on international data, the lifetime prevalence of bulimia in women is between 0.9% and 2.1%, and 0.1% to 1.1% in men (Keski-Rahkonen, Raevuori & Hoek, 2018). 
  • The average age of onset of Bulimia Nervosa is 18 years (Volpe, 2016). 

Learn more about Bulimia Nervosa

Eating disorders and gender

  • 63% of people with eating disorders in Australia are female and 37% male (Paxton, 2012). 
  • Women and girls are more likely to experience all types of eating disorders than men and boys, with the exception of Binge Eating Disorder where there is almost equal prevalence (Hay, Girosi & Mond, 2015). 
  • Approximately 80-85% of individuals diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa are female and 15-20% of people with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are male (Hay, Mond, Buttner & Darby, 2008).  
  • The gender distribution for Binge Eating Disorder is roughly equal for males and females (Hay, Mond, Buttner & Darby, 2008). 
  • 15% of all women will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime (Micali, 2017).  
  • Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness in young women (Yeo & Hughes, 2011). 
  • Eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours in boys and men may present differently than in girls and women, particularly with muscularity-oriented disordered eating (Nagata, Gansen & Murray, 2020). 
  • Research suggests that transgender people, whose assigned sex at birth does not match their gender identity, are more likely than cisgender people, whose assigned sex at birth matches their gender identity, to have been diagnosed with an eating disorder or to engage in disordered eating (Watson, Veale & Saewyc 2017). 
  • Research indicates that both transfeminine spectrum (TFS; those assigned male at birth and identifying as women or on the feminine spectrum) and transmasculine spectrum (TMS; those assigned female at birth and identifying as men or on the masculine spectrum) individuals had higher levels of disordered eating and body dissatisfaction than cisgender participants (Witcomb, 2015).  
  • An Australian study found that 23% of transgender young people have a current or previous diagnosis of an eating disorder (Strauss, 2017). 

Did you know?

It is suspected that the actual percentage of men with eating disorder may be much higher as they are more likely to be overlooked or misdiagnosed by clinicians (Stother, 2012). 

Eating disorders and LGBTIQA+ communities

  • People who are LGBTIQA+ are at a greater risk for disordered eating behaviours (Calzo, 2017).
  • Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens may be at higher risk of binge eating than their heterosexual peers (Austin, 2009).
  • A review from the United States found that lifetime prevalence for eating disorders is higher among sexual minority adults compared with cisgender heterosexual adults however, more detailed research is required (Nagata, Ganson & Austin 2020).

Eating disorders and age

  • Eating disorders can affect people of all ages and have been diagnosed in those younger than 5 years and older than 80 years (NEDC, 2017). 
  • Research shows that adolescents are at greatest riskwith the average age of onset for an eating disorder between 12 and 25 years (Volpe et. al., 2016). 
  • 75% of people diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and 83% of people diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa are between 12 and 25 years (Volpe et. al., 2016). 
  • 57% of contacts to the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline in 2018-2019 were from young people aged up to 25 years (Butterfly Foundation 2020a). 

Eating disorders and income, education and ethnicity

  • Most people with eating disorders have similar households incomes and education levels as the general population (Hay, Girosi & Mond, 2015).  ion 2020a).
  • Eating disorders occur in all ethnicities, nationalities and cultural backgrounds (Schamberg, 2017). 
  • A 2019 review found that at any one-time prevalence of eating disorders is 4.6% in America, 2.2% in Europe and 3.5% in Asia (Galmiche, 2019). 

Eating disorders and Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people

  • Though research is limited, it has been estimated that eating disorders incidence is much higher in Indigenous populations with estimates that up to 27% are affected (Burt, Mannan, Touyz, & Hay, 2020).  
  • A recent research study found that 28% of Indigenous high school students have an eating disorder compared to 22% of other Australian teens (Burt, 2020). 
  • Binge eating disorders are as common, if not more common, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth (Hay & Carriage, 2012). 
  • Research suggests that 30% of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander young people are extremely or very concerned about their body image (Hall, 2020). 

Eating disorders and athletes

  • Disordered eating can occur in any athlete, in any sport, at any time, crossing boundaries of gender, age, body size, culture, socioeconomic background, athletic calibre and ability (Wells, 2020). 
  • Overall, there is a higher prevalence of disordered eating and eating disorders in athletes compared to non-athletes (Bratland-Sanda & Sundgot-Borgen, 2013) 
  • It is estimated that up to 45% of females and up to 19% of male athletes experience disordered eating and/or an eating disorder (Reardon, 2019). 
  • Research shows that people who engage in aesthetic, gravitational and weight-class sports such as weight-lifting, boxing, horse racing, rowing, gymnastics, swimming, figure skating and dance are at higher risk of disordered eating and/or an eating disorder (Wells, 2020).  

Eating disorder causes and risk factors

  • No single cause of eating disorders has been identified (NEDC, 2017).  
  • Eating disorders develop from a complex interaction of psychological risk factors, sociocultural influences, and biological and genetic predispositions (Mayhew, 2018). 
  • Disordered eating is the most significant risk factor for the onset of an eating disorder (Loth, 2014). 
  • Sociocultural influences are theorised to play a considerable role in the development of eating disorders, particularly amongst individuals who internalise the Western beauty ideal of thinness (NEDC, 2017). 
  • Common risk factors (across all eating disorders) are gender, ethnicity, early childhood eating and gastrointestinal problems, negative self-evaluation, sexual abuse and other adverse experiences (Culbert, Racine & Klump, 2015). 
  • It has been identified that there are some personality traits that can make people more susceptible to developing Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa such as perfectionism, obsessive-compulsiveness, neuroticism, negative emotionality, harm avoidance, low co-cooperativeness, core low self-esteem and traits associated with avoidant personality disorder (Culbert, Racine & Klump, 2015). 
  • The best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealisation of thinness (Culbert, Racine & Klump, 2015).  
  • Recent research (including twin studies, genome studies and familial aggregation of eating disorders) indicate genetics play a substantial role in the aetiology (cause) of eating disorders (Hubel, 2018, Polderman, 2015, Duncan, 2017 Pettersson, 2019). 
  • Heritability estimates range from 22-76% for Anorexia Nervosa, 52- 62% for Bulimia Nervosa and 57% for Binge Eating Disorder though more detailed research is required (Mitchison & Hay, 2014). 

Learn more about eating disorders and risk factors

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Eating disorder and co-occurring conditions

Eating disorders are frequently associated with other psychological and physical disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse and personality disorders (Hudson, 2007). 

  • Approximately 55- 97% of people diagnosed with an eating disorder have a mental illness comorbid condition (NEDC, 2017). 
  • Approximately 45-86% of individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder have co-existing depression (O’Brien & Vincent, 2003). 
  • Approximately 64% of individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder have co-existing anxiety disorder (Kaye, 2004). 
  • Approximately 58% of individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder have co-existing personality disorder (NEDC, 2017). 
  • Among adolescents, approximately 88% of individuals with Bulimia Nervosa, 84% of individuals with Binge Eating Disorder, and 55% of individuals with Anorexia Nervosa have had one or more co-existing mental illness at some point in their lives (NEDC, 2017).  
  • Research indicates that anxiety disorder (especially social anxiety) can precede the onset of an eating disorder (Swinbourne & Touyz, 2007). 
  • Higher rates of disordered eating have been described in chronic health conditions that require dietary modification, including Celiac disease, Cystic Fibrosis and Diabetes (Wabich, 2020). 
  • People with Diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2) may be two times as likely to develop disordered eating and/or an eating disorder likely due to the nature of the illness including factors such as weight-gain, obsession with food and feelings of loss of control (Pereira and Alvarenga, 2007). 
  • Gastrointestinal conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are more prevalent in those diagnosed with an eating disorder though research is unclear if symptoms are resulting from or precede the eating disorder (Mari et,.al., 2019). 
  • Research findings suggest indicate that patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) including Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis, may struggle with maladaptive attitudes toward eating making them at higher risk for developing disordered eating and/or an eating disorder however more research specific to these conditions is required (Wabich, 2020). 

Learn more about eating disorders and other health conditions

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Eating disorder mortality and suicidality

  • Eating disorders, along with substance use disorders, have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders (Chesney, Goodwin & Fazel, 2014). 
  • The mortality rate of those with Anorexia Nervosa is higher than other eating disorders (Fichter & Quadflieg, 2016). 
  • Cardiovascular complications is the leading cause of death among people with Anorexia Nervosa, followed by suicide (Smith, Zuromski & Dodd, 2018). 
  • The rate of mortality of individuals with Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder is lower than those with Anorexia Nervosa, but still significantly higher than the general population (NEDC, 2017). 
  • People with Anorexia Nervosa are more than 31 times more likely to attempt suicide and those with Bulimia Nervosa 7.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population (Preti, 2011). 
  • People with Anorexia Nervosa are 18 times more likely to die by suicide and those with Bulimia Nervosa are 7 times more likely to die by suicide relative to gender and aged matched comparison groups (Smith, Zuromski & Dodd, 2018). 
  • Suicidal behaviour is elevated in Binge Eating Disorder relative to the general population (Smith, Zuromski & Dodd, 2018).  
  • Suicide risk is higher when eating disorders occur with other psychological conditions (Smith, 2018). 

Eating disorder treatment and recovery

  • It is estimated that 75% of people with an eating disorder don’t seek professional help (Hart, 2011). 
  • The reasons/ barriers for not accessing treatment include stigma, shame, denial, failure to perceive the severity of the illness, cost of treatment, low motivation to change, lack of encouragement and lack of knowledge about how to access help resources (Ali, 2017).  
  • The most effective treatment for eating disorder is person-centred care, tailored to suit the individual’s illness, situation and needs (Hay, 2014). 
  • The average time taken to recover from all types of eating disorders, after seeking treatment, is 1-6 years (Deloitte Access Economics, 2015).
  • When skilled and knowledgeable health professionals deliver treatment, full recovery and good quality of life can be achieved for the majority of people with eating disorders (Butterfly Foundation, 2017).  

Treatment for eating disorders

Accessing professional, evidence-based treatment for an eating disorder will give you the best possible recovery outcomes.

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Eating disorders and economic impact

  • In 2012, the total social and economic cost of eating disorders in Australia was estimated at $69.7 billion (including health system, productivity and carer costs). Direct financial costs total $17.1 million and the burden of disease costs are $52.6 million (Paxton, 2012).  
  • Eating disorders are one of the 12 leading causes of hospitalisation costs due to mental health issues in Australia (Paxton, 2012).  
  • Eating disorders are among the leading causes of burden of disease and injury in young females in Australia (AIHW, 2007). 
  • The in-patient expense, in the private hospital sector, of treating a single episode of Anorexia Nervosa has been reported to be the second most costly condition (after cardiac artery bypass surgery). (Pratt & Woolfenden, 2009). 

Body image, dieting and social media

  • Body image has been listed in the top four concerns for young Australians from 2009-2018 with 30% concerned about body image (Carlisle et al, 2018). 
  • Research shows that up to 80% of young teenage girls report fear of becoming ‘fat’ (Kearney-Cooke & Tieger, 2015). 
  • Nearly 23% of Australian women report a self over evaluation of weight and shape – meaning they think they are larger than they are according to BMI (Mitchison, 2013). 
  • It has been reported that more than 55% of Australian girls and 57% boys aged 8 to 9 years are dissatisfied with their body t (Daragnova, 2013).  
  • Nearly half of Australian women and one third of Australian men are dissatisfied with their body (NEDC, 2017). 
  • Weight related teasing in children is associated with disordered eating, weight gain, binge eating, and extreme weight control measures (Golden, Schneider & Wood, 2016). 
  • Social media use has been linked to self-objectification, and using social media for merely 30 minutes, a day can change the way you view your own body (Fardouly & Vartanian, 2015). 
  • study of teen girls reported that social media users were significantly more likely than non-social media users to have internalized a drive for thinness and to engage in body surveillance (Fardouly, 2015).  
  • Weight-loss dieting is a risk factor for the development of an eating disorders and. Dieting frequently precedes the onset of an eating disorder (Butryn & Wadden, 2005). 
  • Dietary restraint influences binge-eating behaviour (Andres & Saldana, 2014). 
  • 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 (Tucci et al., 2007). 

Learn more about disordered eating and dieting

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Eating disorders and COVID-19

  • People with an eating disorder may be at increased risk of exacerbation of symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, including greater levels of anxiety and stress due to social isolation (Touyz, Lacey & Hay, 2020). 
  • Initial Australian research indicates the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted eating disorders with an increase in restriction, binge eating, purging and exercise behaviours in those with eating disorders and increased restriction and binge eating in the general population (Phillipou, 2020). 

Learn more about eating disorders and COVID-19

Early in the pandemic EDV put together a guide to COVID-19 and eating disorders.

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