Persistent Stigma in Eating Disorder: Stats and Facts

Eating disorders affect over 30 million people in the United States at some point their lifetime.(1) It also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with at least one person dying every 62 minutes as a direct result from an eating disorder.(2,3)

Despite these staggering statistics, however, eating disorder remain one of the most downplayed and stigmatized mental disorders. Many subconsciously still hold the belief that eating disorder is a “lifestyle choice,” that those suffering from them has chosen to practice disordered eating. The erroneous notion that eating disorders only impact young, white, affluent women image persists, fueled by continuous stereotyped portrayals on media. Other common stigmas include the assumption that only people suffering from eating disorders have a same body shape, and that those who develop the disorder must be excessively concerned with their appearance.

Yet the truth is, eating disorders affect all people – across gender, age, socioeconomic class and race. Over 13% of women over the age of 50 suffer from some type of eating disorder.(4) In the United States, approximately a third of those who suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder are men.(5) Research has also suggested that eating disorders disproportionately impact some segments of LGBTQ populations, although data regarding this margnizalized population is still woefully inadequate.

These social stigmas surrounding eating disorders prevent people from seeking help, likely contributing to the high mortality rate of eating disorders. It needs to be made clear that eating disorders are about more than an obsession around food and appearance, more than just a “diet gone wrong”; it is a real psychology disorder with complex etiological factors and severe physical manifestations that must be treated.

By EJ Kim '19| Staff Writer

  1. 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.
  2. Smink, F. E., van Hoeken, D., & Hoek, H. W. (2012). Epidemiology of eating disorders: Incidence, prevalence and mortality rates. Current Psychiatry Reports,14(4), 406-414.
  3. Eating Disorders Coalition. (2016). Facts About Eating Disorders: What The Research Shows.http://eatingdisorderscoalition.org.s208556.gridserver.com/couch/uploads/file/fact-sheet_2016.pdf
  4. Gagne, D. A., Von Holle, A., Brownley, K. A., Runfola, C. D., Hofmeier, S., Branch, K. E., & Bulik, C. M. (2012). Eating disorder symptoms and weight and shape concerns in a large web‐based convenience sample of women ages 50 and above: Results of the gender and body image (GABI) study. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45(7), 832-844.
  5. Wade, T. D., Keski-Rahkonen A., & Hudson J. (2011).”Epidemiology of eating disorders.” In M. Tsuang and M. Tohen (Eds.), Textbook in Psychiatric Epidemiology (3rd ed.) (pp. 343-360). New York: Wiley.