Understanding Statistics on Eating Disorders
It is important to make sure that you understand the meaning of any eating disorder statistic you may read, and how it can be used.
Look at the research from which the statistics come:
- What kind of questions did the researchers ask?
- How was information gathered?
- Who did they ask?
- Do the researchers have a bias?
- Is there a different explanation for the results?
The statistics NEDIC uses are gathered from peer-reviewed articles in highly regarded journals. We provide these statistics to draw attention to the core issues involved in eating disorders. Our aim is to influence those policymakers, funding organizations and individuals who are committed to making a difference in our society through the expansion of prevention and intervention services.
Statistics are also useful in initiating discussion on eating disorders, and in encouraging people to help work toward the healing, health and well-being of everyone affected by an eating problem.
Please note: The following statistics have been compiled from specific research studies and papers as cited. These statistics may not be applicable to other groups. You can review more statistics on eating disorders in our archive.
Prevalence of Eating Disorders
According to a 2002 survey, 1.5% of Canadian women aged 15–24 years had an eating disorder.
Government of Canada. (2006). The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Canada 2006.
The prevalence of anorexia and bulimia is estimated to be 0.3% and 1.0% among adolescent and young women respectively. Prevalence rates of anorexia and bulimia appear to increase during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood.
Hoek, H. W. (2007). Incidence, prevalence and mortality of anorexia and other eating disorders. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 19(4), 389-394.
Lifetime prevalence rates for AN, BN, and BED tend to be higher among women than in men.
- Lifetime prevalence of AN = 0.9% in women and 0.3% in men
- Lifetime prevalence of BN = 1.5% in women and 0.5% in men
- Lifetime prevalence of BED found to be 3.5% in women and 2.0% in men
The average lifetime duration of BN is found to be approximately 8.3 years.
Hudson, J. I., Hiripi, E., Pope, H. G. & Kessler, R. C. (2007). The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological Psychiatry, 61(3), 348-358.
AN has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness – it is estimated that 10% of individuals with AN will die within 10 years of the onset of the disorder.
Sullivan, P. (2002). Course and outcome of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In Fairburn, C. G. & Brownell, K. D. (Eds.). Eating Disorders and Obesity (pp. 226-232). New York, New York: Guilford.
Eating Disorders in Males
Four percent of boys in grades nine and ten reported anabolic steroid use in a 2002 study, showing that body preoccupation and attempts to alter one’s body are issues affecting both men and women.
Boyce, W. F. (2004). Young people in Canada: their health and well-being. Ottawa, Ontario: Health Canada.
The fashion industry has long dictated that female models be tall and waif-like; however, male models are now facing increasing pressure to slim down and appear more androgynous, in order to book top fashion jobs.
Trebay, G. (2008, February 7). The Vanishing Point. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/07/fashion/shows/07DIARY.html?pagewanted=1.
Children and Adolescents
Children learn (unhealthy) mainstream attitudes towards food and weight at a very young age. In a study of five-year-old girls, a significant proportion of girls associated a diet with food restriction, weight-loss and thinness.
Abramovitz, B. A. & Birch, L. L. (2000). Five-year-old girls’ ideas about dieting are predicted by their mothers’ dieting. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100 (10), 1157-1163.
According to a 2002 survey, 28% of girls in grade nine and 29% in grade ten engaged in weight-loss behaviours.
Boyce, W. F. (2004). Young people in Canada: their health and well-being. Ottawa, Ontario: Health Canada
Thirty-seven percent of girls in grade nine and 40% in grade ten perceived themselves as too fat. Even among students of normal-weight (based on BMI), 19% believed that they were too fat, and 12% of students reported attempting to lose weight.
Boyce, W. F., King, M. A. & Roche, J. (2008). Healthy Living and Healthy Weight. In Healthy Settings for Young People in Canada. Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/dca-dea/yjc/pdf/youth-jeunes-eng.pdf.
In a survey of adolescents in grades 7–12, 30% of girls and 25% of boys reported teasing by peers about their weight. Such teasing has been found to persist in the home as well – 29% of girls and 16% of boys reported having been teased by a family member about their weight.
Eisenberg, M. E. & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2003). Associations of Weight-Based Teasing and Emotional Well-Being Among Adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 157(6), 733-738.
Body-based teasing can have a serious impact on girls’ attitudes and behaviours. According to one study, girls who reported teasing by family members were 1.5 times more likely to engage in binge-eating and extreme weight control behaviours five years later.
Neumark-Sztainer, D. R., Wall, M. M., Haines, J. I., Story, M. T., Sherwood, N. E., van den Berg, P. A. (2007). Shared Risk and Protective Factors for Overweight and Disordered Eating in Adolescents. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 33(5), 359-369.
Overweight and obese children are more likely to be bullied than their normal-weight peers. For example:
- In a survey of 11–16 year-olds, 10% of normal-weight children reported being bullied, compared to 15% of overweight and 23% of obese children
- Obese girls were 2.7 times more likely than normal weight girls to be verbally bullied on a regular basis and 3.4 times more likely to be excluded from group activities
Janssen, I., Craig, W. M., Boyce, W. F. & Pickett, W. (2004). Associations Between Overweight and Obesity With Bullying Behaviours in School-Age Children. Pediatrics, 113(5), 1187-1194.
In a study of 14–15 year old adolescents, girls who engaged in strict dieting practices:
- Were 18 times more likely to develop an ED within six months than non-dieters
- Had almost a 20% chance of developing an ED within one year
Girls who dieted moderately were five times more likely to develop an ED within 6 months than non-dieters.
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, 765-768.
In childhood (5–12 years), the ratio of girls to boys diagnosed with AN or BN is 5:1, whereas in adolescents and adults, the ratio is much larger – 10 females to every male.
Public Health Agency of Canada. Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program, 2003 Results.
Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/cpsp-pcsp03/page6-eng.php.
Dieting and the Diet Industry
Dieting for weight loss is often associated with weight gain, due to the increased incidence of binge-eating.
Field, A. E., Austin, S. B., Taylor, C. B., Malpeis, 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), 900-906,
Stice, Cameron, R. P., Killen, J. D., Hayward, C. & Taylor, C. B. (1999). Naturalistic weight-reduction efforts prospectively predict growth in relative weight and onset of obesity among female adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67, 967-974.
Adolescent girls who diet are at 324% greater risk for obesity than those who do not diet.
(Stice et al., 1999).
A survey of British models found that 50% believe that AN and BN are significant problems amongst models. In addition, 70% of models perceive a trend for thinner models over the last five years.
British Fashion Council. The Report of the Model Health Inquiry, September 2007. Retrieved from
According to a Norwegian study, elite athletes demonstrate significantly higher rates of EDs compared to population controls. In one study, 20% of elite female athletes met the criteria for having an ED, compared to 9% of female controls. In men, 8% of elite male athletes met the criteria for having an ED, compared to 0.5% of male controls.
Female athletes competing in aesthetic sports (e.g. dance, gymnastics and figure skating) were found to be at the highest risk for EDs. Athletes competing in weight-class and endurance sports were also at elevated risk for EDs.
Sungot-Borgen, J. & Torstveit, M.K. (2004). Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Elite Athletes is Higher Than in the General Population. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 14(1), 25-32.
Dieting and Obesity/Weight Loss
Findings from Project EAT (population-based study of approximately 5000 teens):
- More than 1/2 of girls and 1/3 of boys engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors (e.g., fasting, vomiting, laxatives, skipping meals, or smoking to control appetite)
- Higher weight and overweight teens are more likely to engage in both binge-eating and unhealthy weight control than normal weight teens.
In fact, 20% of overweight girls and 6% of overweight boys report using laxatives, vomiting, diuretics, and diet pills (Neumark-Sztainer, Story, Hannan, Perry, & Irving, 2002).
Cogan, J. C., Smith, J. P. & Maine, M. D. (2008). The risks of a quick fix: A case against mandatory body mass index reporting laws. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 16, 2-13.
Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., Hannan, P. J., Perry, C. L. & Irving L. M. (2002). Weight- Related Concerns and Behaviors Among Overweight and Nonoverweight Adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 156(2), 171-178.
Body dissatisfaction and weight change behaviours have been shown to predict later physical and mental health difficulties, including weight gain and obesity on the one hand (Field et al., 2003; Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2006), and the development of eating disorders on the other (Le Grange & Loeb, 2007).
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, 900-906.
Neumark-Sztainer, D., van den Berg, P., Hannan, PJ., & Story, M. (2006). Self-weighing in adolescents: helpful or harmful: longitudinal associations with body weight changes and disordered eating. Journal of Adolescent Health, 39, 811-818.
Le Grange, D., & Loeb, KL. (2007). Early identification and treatment of eating disorders: prodrome to syndrome. Early Intervention in Psychiatry, 1, 27-39.
Understanding Brief Reports on Research
Brief reports on research are often found in the media. They can be useful because they tell us about new research. Based on this information, we can find out more about the issue under study.
On the other hand, brief reports on research can also be misleading if they:
- Are taken out of context.
- Leave out many of the researchers' comments that explain or change the meaning of the results.
- Ignore links or conflicts of interest between the researchers and a particular industry.
It is important to see these short reports as opportunities to highlight issues rather than as complete and dependable sources of information.