Eating Disorder Statistics

How many people in the UK have an eating disorder?

The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence have previously stated that 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder, of which around 11% are male.

More recent research from the NHS information centre showed that up to 6.4% of adults displayed signs of an eating disorder (Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 2007). This research suggested that up to 25% of those showing signs of an eating disorder were male.

The Health and Care Information Centre published new figures in February 2014 showed an 8% rise in the number of inpatient hospital admissions in the 12 months previous to October 2013.

Generally, acquiring accurate figures can be difficult because of the limited information that the Department of Health provides on the matter, only counting those who are currently in inpatient NHS treatment.

Which eating disorder is the most common?

The latest version of the DSM (Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders) cites the main eating disorders as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder (BED), eliminating EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified).

Before the latest change in diagnostic criteria, it was estimated that of those with eating disorders, 10% were anorexic, 40% were bulimic and the rest fall into the EDNOS category which included BED.

At what age do people develop eating disorders?

Although many eating disorders develop during adolescence, it is not at all unusual for people to develop eating disorders earlier or later in life. In fact, we are aware of cases of anorexia in children as young as 6 and some research reports cases developing in women in their 70s. Outside of the stereotypical age bracket, people are less likely to be appropriately diagnosed due to a lack of understanding and awareness of eating disorders in these age groups.

How long do eating disorders last?

Research carried out in Australia suggests that the average duration of anorexia is eight years and five years for bulimia. However, these illnesses can also become severe and enduring, lasting for many years and having a hugely debilitating effect on the sufferers and their families. The sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full recovery.

Is it possible to recover from an eating disorder?

Yes. We are lucky enough to work with some very inspirational people and we hear some very uplifting stories of recovery. Research suggests that around 46% of anorexia patients fully recover, a 33% improving and 20% remaining chronically ill. Similar research into bulimia suggests that 45% make a full recovery, 27% improve considerably and 23% suffer chronically.

How devastating are eating disorders?

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, from medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide. Research has found that 20% of anorexia sufferers will die prematurely from their illness. Bulimia is also associated with severe medical complications, and binge eating disorder sufferers often experience the medical complications associated with obesity. In every case, eating disorders severely affect the quality of life of the sufferer and those that care for them.

How should people with eating disorders seek help?

The first port of call for a sufferer should always be their making an appointment with their GP. The Beat Helpline is available for support and information, and can give people suggestions for how to approach their doctor. After seeking advice from your GP, it can be useful to search Beat’s HelpFinder to find specialised eating disorder help near you.

Do eating disorders run in families?

Eating disorders are complex with no one sole cause, but we know from research that individuals might be predisposed due to their genetic or biological make up.

Some research has found that female relatives of anorexia sufferers were 11.4 times more likely to suffer from anorexia compared to relatives of unaffected participants. For female relatives of those with bulimia, the likelihood of developing bulimia was 3.7 times that of those with unaffected relatives.

It is not yet clear how much of this link between family members is genetic and how much is due to environmental factors.

How can you tell if someone has an eating disorder?

You cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. While it is true that some sufferers of anorexia are severely emaciated, some are not, and the majority of eating disorder sufferers do not have anorexia. Those suffering from bulimia may be within the normal weight range or may be overweight, while those with binge eating disorder are often overweight.

Professor John Morgan at Leeds Partnership NHS Foundation Trust designed the SCOFF screening tool to indicate a possible eating disorder. A score of two or more positive answers is a positive screen.

SCOFF questionnaire:

  • Do you ever make yourself Sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
  • Do you worry you have lost Control over how much you eat?
  • Have you recently lost more than One stone in a three month period?
  • Do you believe yourself to be Fat when others say you are too thin?
  • Would you say that Food dominates your life?