Eating Disorders: an Equal Opportunity Phenomenon

Not Just Teens

Eating disorders have earned a stereotype as an affliction of teenaged white girls; but a new survey, published by Self Magazine in May 2008, finds that 3 out of every 4 American women have disordered eating habits. And lately, more and more men are also receiving eating disorder diagnoses.

The magazine, in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that 65% of American women between the ages of 25-45 report abnormal eating behaviors with an additional 10% reporting symptoms of such eating disorders as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. This means that a total of 75% of American women have distorted behaviors, thoughts, and feelings when it comes to food and their bodies.

Cuts Across Racial and Ethnic Divides

According to Cynthia R. Bulik, Ph.D., William and Jeanne Jordan Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders in the UNC School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry and director of the UNC Eating Disorders Program, “Our survey found that these behaviors cut across racial and ethnic lines and are not limited to any one group. Women who identified their ethnic backgrounds as Hispanic or Latina, white, black or African American and Asian were all represented among the women who reported unhealthy eating behaviors.”

Also a professor of nutrition in the School of Public Health, Bulik, along with study co-author Lauren Reba-Harrelson, reported that a high number of women engage in purging activities. A surprising total of more than 31% of women in the survey reported having induced vomiting, or taken laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills at some point in an effort to lose weight.

While the types of disordered eating behaviors reported in the survey don’t have to result in life-threatening diseases such as bulimia or anorexia, the 4,023 participants in the study reported significant emotional and physical distress connected to these behaviors, feelings, and thoughts. Also, contrary to our perceived notion about who has eating issues, the survey uncovered the fact that women in their 30s and 40s are no different from teens when it comes to disordered eating, since rates remain the same in both populations.

Eating Disorder Statistics

Other findings related to eating disorders include the following statistics, many of which show the shocking number of women with borderline eating disorders:

67% of women are on a diet

53% of dieters are already at a healthy weight

39% of women say that food and weight issues interfere with their happiness

37% of women engage in regular meal skipping to lose weight

27% of women say they’d be “extremely upset” by a 5 pound weight gain

26% of women cut entire food groups from their diets

16% of women have subsisted on 1000 calories a day or less

13% of women smoke to lose weight

12% of woemn often eat when not hungry; 49% sometimes do

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