Eating Disorders in Australia

Prevalence

Eating disorders and disordered eating together are estimated to affect over 16% of the Australian population. Binge eating disorders (BED) and other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED) are the most common eating disorders, affecting approximately 6% and 5%, respectively, while anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) each occur in below 1% of the general population.

Comorbidities

Many people with eating disorders also present with at least one other lifetime psychiatric disorder.

Among adolescents, approximately 88% of individuals with bulimia nervosa, 84% of individuals with binge eating disorder, and 55% of individuals with anorexia nervosa have one or more comorbid psychiatric conditions at some point in their lives. 

The most common and significant psychiatric comorbidities for adolescents and adults with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, as well as adults with anorexia nervosa, are mood, anxiety and substance use disorders. In contrast, the only psychiatric disorder that commonly co-occurs with anorexia nervosa is oppositional defiant disorder.

Obesity

The World Health Organisation defines obesity as a condition of abnormal or excessive body fat that impairs health. Like eating disorders, obesity is a complex, chronic condition that is accompanied by substantial physical and mental health consequences. Obesity is associated with a lower quality of life, including increased psychological distress, mood and anxiety disorders, suicidal ideation and attempts and binge eating disorder. The prevalence of overweight and obesity in Australia is among the highest in the developed world, affecting 60% of adults and 25% of children and adolescents.

Further, while the rate of both disorders is increasing in the Australian population, recent studies indicate that the rate of comorbid obesity and eating disorder behaviours has increased more rapidly than either disorder alone. Overweight and obese individuals are at increased risk of disordered eating and eating disorders (particularly binge eating disorder), while individuals who use unhealthy weight-control practices (e.g. fasting, purging and diet pills) are at increased risk of overweight and obesity.

Obesity and eating disorders may be viewed as occurring at the same end of a spectrum with healthy beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours at one end, and problematic beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours (and ultimately syndromes) at the other end. Obesity and eating disorders share a number of risk factors, including:

Risk factors

  • Individual factors such as dieting, unhealthy weight-control behaviours, weight and shape concerns, and self-esteem issues

  • Social factors, such as parental and peer weight and shape related behaviours

  • Societal factors, such as sociocultural norms, media exposure and weight discrimination

Mortality

The mortality rate for people with eating disorders is significantly higher than that of the average population and among the highest for a psychiatric illness. According to recent estimates, mortality is 5 times higher in individuals with anorexia nervosa than the general population, when matched for age and sex. The rate of mortality in individuals with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder is considerably lower than those with anorexia nervosa, but still significantly higher than the general population.

 

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