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The Prevalence of Eating Disorders Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 30th, 2019


Eating disorders are among many medical conditions that affect human beings and greatly interfere with their health. There are described as disturbances in eating behavior and are usually marked by two extremes such that a person may be taking extremely small or large quantities of food (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009).

They are usually accompanied by feelings of distress or great concern of body weight and shape. Studies of National Institute of Mental Health indicate that though at times a person may be eating normally, sometimes one may experience an uncontrollable urge to eat more or less food (2009).

The disorder may affect people of all ages but high prevalence is recorded during adolescence and early adulthood. As much as they are treatable, effective treatment has not been identified for the chronic types. Moreover, the underlying behavioral, biological, psychological and social causes have not been identified. With that background in mind, this paper shall discuss more about eating disorders since they are on the increase and focus on the growing trend.

Examples of Eating Disorders

It is important to get an overview of some eating disorders and their characteristics to be able to understand their growing trend. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (2009), anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are the main types of eating disorders. However, there is a third group of eating disorders usually referred as eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS).

The category of EDNOS contains disorders that are almost similar to anorexia nervosa or bulimia though they present different characteristics. For instance, binge eating is usually classified under the third category and is almost similar to bulimia nervosa. There are usually gender variations in eating disorders since women are affected more than men.

People suffering from anorexia nervosa are usually emaciated and thin. They are mostly reluctant to maintain the normal healthy body weight and have a distorted body image. Due to low body weight, women and girls suffer from lack of menstrual periods. Anorexia nervosa patients usually practice weight control measures such as excessive exercise, dieting, induced vomiting, use of diuretics and laxatives.

Individuals suffering from bulimia nervosa are characterized by eating extremely large amount of food at different episodes. However, to compensate for the high amounts of food eaten, they usually engage in behaviors such as fasting, exercise, vomiting and use of laxatives. Although they may have normal body weight, they usually suffer from great fear of gaining weight (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009).

Binge eating is an eating disorder usually characterized by uncontrollable urge of eating food. People suffering from the disorder are usually overweight and obese since they do not exercise, purge or fast after eating excessively. Further studies indicate that since patients suffer from guilt and shame due to their binge eating behavior, they usually eat more to suppress their feelings.

Most of the eating disorders coexist together with other psychological illnesses like depression, anxiety and problems related to drug and substance abuse (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009).

Binge eating disorder is the most common disorder compared with bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa according to the studies of Hudson, Hiripi, Pope, & Kessler, (2007). This is due to the fact that results of a survey that was conducted in the same study indicated that among all individuals interviewed, 0.9% and 0.3% of women and men respectively had suffered from anorexia nervosa while 0.5% of men and 1.5% of women had suffered from bulimia nervosa.

On the contrary, 2% of men and 3.5% of women had suffered from binge eating. The study affirmed that all the eating disorders occur mostly in people suffering from problems like anxiety and substance abuse disorders (Hudson, Hiripi, Pope, & Kessler, 2007).

Trend and Incident Rates of Eating Disorders

Although initially eating disorders were not recognized as a serious medical conditions, current research and prevalence rates indicate that the trend of the same is growing tremendously. According to the studies of National Eating Disorders Association (2005, incidence of eating of eating disorders has doubled since the year 1960.

Currently, there is higher incidence in children since some conditions have been recorded even in individuals as young as seven years of age. Several studies which have been conducted in different parts of the world indicate that incident rates are on the increase not only in America but also in some countries in Europe.

For instance, according to the studies of Keski-Rahkonen, et al. (2007), results of the research conducted indicated that the incident rates of anorexia nervosa were increasing steadily during the last decades. Same studies indicate that in the last thirty years, incident rate has risen from 0.12-0.45 per one hundred thousand people.

The same rising trend was observed in other different places like New York State, Scotland and London. The trend of anorexia nervosa reached its peak in the 1980s and that is why it was referred to as the disease of the 80s.

Since bulimia is a dominant eating disorder, it is important to look at the growing trend of the same. Bulimia unlike nervosa is a recent disease since it started to be diagnosed medically in 1970s. However, some few cases were identified in the twentieth century although it was not very clear whether it was bulimia or other related disorders.

Nevertheless, since then, studies indicate that the incident rates have been on the increase. According to National Eating Disorders Association (2005), the incident rates of bulimia in females aged ten to thirty nine year from the year 1988 to 1993 has increased threefold. It is important to mention that the rates may vary due to the fact that obtaining data is not very easy based on the fact that most people suffering from eating disorders do not seek medical attention.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Eating disorders is a sensitive issue due to the fact that more often than not, victims have a problem with body image and perception. Due this, as highlighted earlier, it has always been difficult to obtain the right statistics because in most cases victims avoid any form of exposure.

There are other factors that can lead to a variation of incident rates like using the internet to obtain advice other than seeking medical attention as highlighted in the studies of (Currin, 2005). Therefore, although results of most studies fail to tarry, it will not be an understatement to conclude that a growing trend has been observed.

Research has indicated that much concerning eating disorders is yet to be studied. For instance, it would be necessary to discuss how underlying causes like social and cultural factors affect brain systems in order to cause the disorder. Psychologists and neurologists should therefore study the whole process that results to an eating disorder.

Understanding the brain processes of people suffering from the disorder will help to develop better methods of treatment and also help to identify when a person fully recovers. Although studies of National Institute of Mental Health (2009) indicate that doctors, neurologists and other researchers are currently involved in rigorous research concerning various factors regarding eating disorders, it is important to become more focused and committed in order to combat the problem.


Currin, L. (2005). Time trends in eating disorder incidence. The British Journal of Psychiatry (186 ), 132-135.

Hudson, J., 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, 348-358.

Keski-Rahkonen, A., Hoek, H. W., Susser, E. S., Linna, M. S., Sihvola, E., Raevuori, A., et al. (2007). . Web.

National Eating Disorders Association. (2005). The Prevalence of Eating Disorders. Web.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2009). . Web.

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