Who is Affected?
Eating disorders can occur in people of all ages and genders, across all socioeconomic groups, and from any cultural background.
- Approximately one million Australians are living with an eating disorder in any given year; that is, 4% of the population. (1)
- Many more people experience disordered eating (i.e., behaviours consistent with an eating disorder such as restrictive dieting, binge eating, vomiting, laxative use) that do not meet criteria for an eating disorder. (2) Approximately a third (31.6%) of Australian adolescents engage in disordered eating behaviours within any given year. (3)
- Eating disorder symptoms are on the rise with at least weekly binge eating increasing almost six-fold since the late 1990s and strict dieting increasing almost four-fold (4) with parallel increases in other behavioural and cognitive eating disorder symptoms (e.g. increased dieting, decreased quality of life). (5)
- Bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa are the 8th and 10th leading causes respectively of burden of disease and injury in females aged 15-24 in Australia. (6)
- Among people with a diagnosable eating disorder, only around 23% access eating disorder treatment.7
While eating disorders can affect anyone at any age, they remain more prevalent among adolescents and young people, with the average onset for eating disorders between the ages of 12 and 25 years. (7,8) Adolescence is a high-risk time for developing an eating disorder. In Australia, 1.2% of males and 8.5% of females aged 14 are estimated to have an eating disorder. This increased to 2.9% of males and 15.2% of females by the age of 20. (9)
8.4% of women and 2.2% of men are estimated to experience an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime (10).
While women comprise approximately 80% of people with anorexia nervosa and 70% of people with bulimia nervosa, recent data suggests that the prevalence of BED may be nearly as high in men as in women (11).
The actual percentage of men among people with eating disorders may be higher as their experiences may be overlooked or misdiagnosed by clinicians (12).
While research on the prevalence of eating disorders/disordered eating in gender non-binary and transgender people is limited, emerging research suggests that gender non-binary and transgender people have a two to four times greater risk of eating disorder symptoms or disordered eating behaviours than their cisgender counterparts (13-16).
1. Deloitte Access Economics. Paying the price: The economic and social impact of eating disorders in Australia. Australia: Deloitte Access Economics; 2012.
2. Hay P, Mitchison D, Collado AEL, González-Chica DA, Stocks N, Touyz S. Burden and health-related quality of life of eating disorders, including Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), in the Australian population. J Eat Disord. 2017;5(1):1-10.
3. Sparti C, Santomauro D, Cruwys T, Burgess P, Harris M. Disordered eating among Australian adolescents: prevalence, functioning, and help received. Int J Eat Disord. 2019;52(3):246-54.
4. Da Luz F, Sainsbury A, Mannan H, Touyz S, Mitchison D, Hay P. Prevalence of obesity and comorbid eating disorder behaviors in South Australia from 1995 to 2015. Int J Obes 2017;41(7):1148-53.
5. Mitchison D, Hay P, Slewa-Younan S, Mond J. Time trends in population prevalence of eating disorder behaviors and their relationship to quality of life. PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e48450.
6. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Canberra; 2019.
7. Hart LM, Granillo MT, Jorm AF, Paxton SJ. Unmet need for treatment in the eating disorders: a systematic review of eating disorder specific treatment seeking among community cases. Clin Psychol Rev. 2011;31(5):727-35.
8. Volpe U, Tortorella A, Manchia M, Monteleone AM, Albert U, Monteleone P. Eating disorders: What age at onset? Psychiatry Res. 2016;238:225-7.
9. Allen KL, Byrne SM, Oddy WH, Crosby RD. DSM–IV–TR and DSM-5 eating disorders in adolescents: Prevalence, stability, and psychosocial correlates in a population-based sample of male and female adolescents. J Abnorm Psychol. 2013;122(3):720.
10. Galmiche M, Déchelotte P, Lambert G, Tavolacci MP. Prevalence of eating disorders over the 2000–2018 period: a systematic literature review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019;109(5):1402-13.
11. Hay P, Girosi F, Mond J. Prevalence and sociodemographic correlates of DSM-5 eating disorders in the Australian population. J Eat Disord. 2015;3(1):1-7.
12. Strother E, Lemberg R, Stanford SC, Turberville D. Eating disorders in men: underdiagnosed, undertreated, and misunderstood. Eat Disord. 2012;20(5):346-55.
13. Gordon, A. R., Moore, L. B., & Guss, C. (2021). Eating disorders among transgender and gender non-binary people. In Eating Disorders in Boys and Men (pp. 265-281). Springer, Cham.
14. Diemer EW, Hughto JMW, Gordon AR, Guss CS, Austin B, Reisner SL. Beyond the Binary: Differences in Eating Disorder Prevalence by Gender Identity in a Transgender Sample. Transgender Health. 2018;3:1, 17-23
15. Giordano S. Eating yourself away: Reflections on the ‘comorbidity’ of eating disorders and gender dysphoria. Clinical Ethics. 2017;12(1):45-53. doi:10.1177/1477750916661977
16. Feder S, Isserlin L, Seale E, Hammond N, Norris ML. Exploring the association between eating disorders and gender dysphoria in youth. Eat Disord. 2017; Jul-Sep;25(4):310-317. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2017.1297112
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses; they are not a lifestyle choice or a diet gone ‘too far’. The factsEating disorders are serious, complex and potentially life-threatening mental illnesses. They are characterised by disturbances in behaviours, thoughts and attitudes to food, eating, and body weight or shape.
Eating Disorders in Australia
Approximately one million Australians are living with an eating disorder in any given year; that is, 4% of the population. 1
Many more people experience disordered eating (i. e.