Eating disorders impact around 9% of the global population. They result in more than 10,000 deaths in the U.S. every year, representing one of the deadliest mental illnesses. Anorexia can impact people of every gender identity, race, and socioeconomic status. It is one of the most common eating disorders involving food and calorie restriction, fear of gaining weight, and distorted body image.
Gender Statistics on Anorexia
Anorexia is a mental health disorder that can impact anyone at any age. Men, women, and people of any gender identity can develop anorexia.
Anorexia is more common in women than men. As a result, it is often stigmatized, overlooked, and underdiagnosed in men. Anorexia is likely very underreported in men.
Women with anorexia regularly restrict calories and food intake in an attempt to look very thin. They will still believe they are “fat” regardless of how much weight they lose.
Men can also have restrictive diets and deprive themselves of the necessary nutrition to maintain a healthy weight, but they are more likely to exercise excessively and take steroids and/or supplements to achieve their version of a “masculine” lean and muscular body type.
- Women have anorexia at rates three times higher than males: 0.9% of the population versus 0.3% of the population.
- An estimated 0.5% to 3.7% of women will develop anorexia at some point in their lifetime.
- Around 10 million men in the United States will develop an eating disorder within their lifetime.
- Men make up approximately 20% of all people with anorexia.
Anorexia also affects the LGBTQ+ population. Gender dysmorphia and body dissatisfaction are often contributing factors to the onset of an eating disorder.
Nearly a third of transgender people with an eating disorder report using the disorder to modify their bodies without the use of hormones.
Adult and adolescent LGBT individuals experience disordered eating and eating disorders at higher rates than their heterosexual or cisgender peers.
Race Statistics & Anorexia
Just as anorexia can impact people of different gender and sexual orientations, it can also affect people across different races and ethnicities.
While previous studies have shown a higher prevalence in white females than women of color, recent research has shown that there are likely similar risk factors and prevalence of an eating disorder across these racial and ethnic lines. Ethnic minorities are then just as likely to develop an eating disorder as white individuals are.
Asian American women often have lower body weights and a higher thin-ideal internalization. Exposure to Western media has likely elevated the risk for disordered eating and body image, which can increase the rate of potential eating disorders in this group.
In contrast, African American women tend to have higher BMIs and a lower thin-ideal internalization, which can then be a protective factor for developing an eating disorder. It is also important to note that a higher BMI with an eating disorder can elevate the mortality risk for the disorder.
Socioeconomic Statistics on Eating Disorders
It has been falsely believed that eating disorders like anorexia are mainly limited to white upper-class women. Research has challenged this belief, showing that people across all socioeconomic statuses are equally prone to developing an eating disorder.
Historical studies that reported a higher prevalence of anorexia in those with higher socioeconomic status have been shown to be too narrow and not indicative of the entire picture.
Low-income populations also have eating disorders and risk factors that can lead to anorexia. Anorexia can impact people of all socioeconomic levels.
Other At-Risk Groups
There are a variety of factors that can contribute to the onset of anorexia that can put some populations and people at a higher risk for developing the eating disorder. Statistics on at-risk groups are as follows:
- Athletes: Studies have shown that more than a third of female NCAA Division I athletes exhibit symptoms and attitudes that place them at risk for anorexia. Many sports (especially individual sports such as gymnastics, swimming, wrestling, track and field, bodybuilding, diving, and dancing) put a lot of emphasis on a specific body type or weight, which can increase the risk of an eating disorder to achieve that ideal body type. Studies show that 35% of female college athletes and 10% of males have an elevated risk for anorexia.
- People with autism: Around 20% of people with autism also have anorexia. Autism can elevate the risk for anorexia since people with autism often already exhibit restrictive eating patterns, have a desire to exhibit some sense of control, and often want to fit an ideal body image to “fit in” with peers.
- Teens: Young females are at the highest risk, and anorexia often begins in adolescence. The vast majority (95%) of people with an eating disorder are between the ages of 12 and 25. About 1 out of every 100 young women between the ages of 10 and 20 have anorexia.
- People with co-occurring mental illnesses: Anorexia commonly co-occurs with other mental health conditions. Studies have shown that in people with anorexia, there is also a lifetime prevalence of substance abuse (12%–21%), anxiety disorders (20%–60%), and depression (15%–60%)
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