Eating Disorder Statistics

Overview of Australian Eating Disorder Statistics

  • Between 1995 and 2005 the prevalence of disordered eating behaviours doubled among both males and females
  • Eating disorders are increasing in both younger and older age groups
  • Eating disorders occur in both males and females before puberty, with the ratio of males to females approximately 1:10 during adolescence and decreasing to 1:20 during young adulthood
  • Eating disorders are estimated to affect 9% of Australian population – therefore more than 2 million people are estimated to be experiencing an eating disorder
  • Prevalence of eating disorders is increasing amongst boys and men
  • 90% of cases of anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) occur in females
  • Approximately 15% of women experience an eating disorder at some point during their life
  • An estimated 20% of females have an undiagnosed eating disorder
  • Eating disorders are the 3rd most common chronic illness in young females
  • Risk of premature death from an eating disorder is 6-12 times higher than the general population
  • Eating disorders are ranked 12th among the leading causes of hospitalization costs due to mental health
  • Eating disorders can be considered to exist within a spectrum, with 10-30% of patients crossing over between anorexic and bulimic tendencies during the course of their illness
  • Depression is experienced by approximately 45% to 86% of individuals with an eating disorder
  • Anxiety disorder is experienced by approximately 64% of individuals with an eating disorder
  • Approximately 58% of individuals with eating disorders have a comorbid Personality disorder
  • Sufferers typically deny they have an eating disorder

Eating Disorder Statistics Australia – Graph Form

Eating Disorder Statistics Australia


Go to Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder


  • Based on international data, the lifetime prevalence for females is between .3% and 1.5%, and between 0.1% and 0.5% in males
  • Approximately one in 100 adolescent girls develops anorexia nervosa
  • One in ten young adults and approximately 25% of children diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are male
  • Anorexia has the highest mortality rate on any psychiatric disorder
  • 1 in 5 premature deaths of individuals with Anorexia Nervosa are caused by suicide
  • Among 15-24 year old females, AN has a standardized mortality rate that is 12 times the annual mortality rate from all causes
  • The onset of anorexia usually occurs during adolescents with a median age of 17
  • The average duration is 7 years. Those who recover are unlikely to return to normal health
  • 40% of people with anorexia nervosa are at risk of developing bulimia nervosa
  • Many sufferers develop chronic social problems, which can escalate to the extent experienced by schizophrenic patients
  • Morbidity includes osteoporosis, anovulation, dysthymia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and social isolation
  • Although 70% of patients regain weight within 6 months of onset of treatment, 15-25% of these relapse, usually within 2 years
  • More than half of anorexia sufferers have been sexually abused or experienced some other major trauma


  • The incidence of Bulimia Nervosa in the Australian population is 5 in 100. At least two studies have indicated that only about one tenth of the cases of bulimia in the community are detected
  • True incidence estimated to be 1 in 5 amongst students and women (NEDC)
  • Based on international data, the lifetime prevalence in females is between .9% and 2.1%, and <.1% to 1.1% in males
  • The onset of Bulimia Nervosa usually occurs between 16 and 18 years of age
  • It is common for people suffering from bulimia to keep their disorder hidden for 8-10 years, at great cost to their physical and psychological health
  • 92% of people with bulimia said that seeking help was entirely their own choice whereas only 19% of people with anorexia agreed
  • 83% of bulimic patients vomit, 33% abuse laxatives, and 10% take diet pills
  • The mortality rate for bulimia nervosa is estimated to be up to 19%
  • People with bulimia may have had one or several suicide attempts and there is a high incidence of depression amongst bulimia sufferers
  • 70% of individuals who undertake treatment for Bulimia Nervosa report a significant improvement in their symptoms
  • Bulimia can become a means of coping with stressful situations, such as an unhappy relationship or a traumatic past event
  • Impulsivity and substance abuse is correlated with Bulimia

Overweight Statistics Australia


Binge Eating Disorder

  • Binge Eating disorder is characterised by recurrent binge eating without using compensatory measures such as vomiting, laxative abuse or excessive exercise to counter the binge
  • Based on international data, the lifetime prevalence in females is between 2.5% and 4.5%, and 1.0% and 3.0% in males
  • The prevalence of Binge Eating Disorder in the general population is estimated to be 4%
  • The incidence of Binge Eating Disorder in males and females is almost equal
  • The disorder often develops in late adolescents and early 20’s
  • People with binge eating disorder are at risk of developing a variety of different medical conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, gallbladder disease, heart disease and certain types of cancers
  • Potential risk factors include obesity, being overweight as a child, strict dieting, and a history of depression, anxiety and low self esteem

Overweight Statistics Australia and Anglosphere


Eating Disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS)

  • The clinical diagnosis of eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) has been said to represent the most common diagnosis made in outpatient settings but the one most ignored by researchers because of its status as a ”residual diagnosis” in the DSM-IV, or a disorder of clinical severity where the diagnostic criteria of bulimia nervosa (BN) or anorexia nervosa (AN) are not met
  • Approximately 40-60% of people seeking treatment for an eating disorder have EDNOS

Risk Factors Developing an Eating Disorder

  • Eating disorders may arise from a variety of different causes and while they sometimes begin with a preoccupation with food and weight they are often about much more than food
  • Adolescents with diabetes may be at 4-times the risk
  • Females with diabetes and Anorexia Nervosa are at 15.7 higher risk of mortality than females with diabetes alone

Eating Disorder Risk Factor – Weight Loss Dieting

  • Dieting is the single most important risk factor for developing an eating disorder. 68% of 15 year old females are on a diet, of these, 8% are severely dieting. Adolescent girls who diet only moderately, are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who don’t diet, and those who diet severely are 18 time more likely to develop an eating disorder
  • Research has shown that the traditional dieting approach of restricting both calories and food types shows poor results in achieving long-term weight loss. Within five years, many dieters regain any weight they lose and often end up heavier than when they began. They also tend to develop very unhealthy attitudes towards food and to lose their natural ability to recognise when they are hungry or full
  • Young Australian women who start dieting before the age of 15 are more likely to experience depression, binge eating, purging, and physical symptoms such as tiredness, low iron levels and menstrual irregularities
  • Women who diet frequently (more than 5 times) are 75% more likely to experience depression
  • A Victorian study of adolescents aged 12 to 17 years classified 38% of girls and 12% of boys as “intermediate” to “extreme” dieters (i.e., at risk of an eating disorder)
  • A Sydney study of adolescents aged 11 to 15 reported that 16% of the girls and 7% of the boys had already employed at least one potentially dangerous method of weight reduction, including starvation, vomiting and laxative abuse
  • A sample of women from the general population aged 18 to 42 years found the point prevalence for the regular use of specific weight control methods was 4.9% for excessive exercise, 3.4% for extreme restrictive eating, 2.2% for diet pills, 1.4% for self-induced vomiting, 1.0% for laxative misuse, and .3% for diuretic misuse
  • 31% of young women surveyed between 18 and 23 reported that at some time they had at least experimented with unhealthy eating behaviours including making themselves purge, deliberately abusing laxatives or diuretics, or fasting for at least 24 hours in order to lose weight
  • Dieting to control weight in adolescence is not only ineffective, it may actually promote weight gain A study of adolescents showed that after 3 years of follow-up, regular adolescent dieters gained more weight than non-dieters
  • High frequency dieting and early onset of dieting are associated with poorer physical and mental health, more disordered eating, extreme body dissatisfaction, and more frequent general health problems
  • Amongst 12 to 17 year olds, 90% of females and 68% of males have been on a diet of some kind

Eating Disorder Risk Factor – Body Image Pressure

  • In Australians aged 11-24, approximately 28% of males are dissatisfied with their appearance compared to 35% of females
  • The Australian National Survey, revealed that body image was identified as the number one concern of 29,000 males and females
  • The Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, found that only 22% of women within a normal healthy weight range reported being happy with their weight. Almost three quarters (74%) desired to weigh less, including 68% of healthy weight and 25% underweight women
  • Low self esteem increases the chance of developing disordered eating
  • Poor body image is associated with an increased probability of engaging in dangerous dietary practices and weight control methods, excessive exercise, substance abuse and unnecessary surgery to alter appearance
  • A recent survey of 600 Australian children found that increasingly, children are disturbed by the relentless pressure of marketing aimed at them. A large majority (88%) believed that companies tried to sell them things that they do not really need
  • A large number (41%) of children are specifically worried about the way they look with 35% concerned about being overweight (44% of girls and 27% of boys) and 16% being too skinny
  • A 2007 Sydney University study of nearly 9,000 adolescents showed one in five teenage girls starved themselves or vomit up their food to control their weight. Eight per cent of girls used smoking for weight control
  • In a 2006 AC Nielsen survey conducted to judge if current models were too thin, 94% of people in Norway, 92 % in New Zealand and Switzerland and 90 % in Australia said the models could do with more flesh
  • Beyond Stereotypes, the 2005 study commissioned by Dove surveyed 3,300 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 64 in 10 countries. They found that 67% of all women 15 to 64 withdraw from life-engaging activities due to feeling badly about their looks

Eating Disorder Research References

Overview of eating disorders

  • The National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2012). An Integrated Response to Complexity – National Eating Disorders Framework 2012.
  • Kohn, M & Golden, NH. (2001). Eating disorders in children and adolescents: epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment. Paediatric Drugs, 3(2), 91-9.
  • The National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2012). Eating Disorders in Australia. Retrieved from
  • Gonzalez, A, Kohn, MR & Clarke, SD.(2007). Eating disorders in adolescents. Australian Family Physician, 36 (8), 614-9.
  • O’Brien, K.M.O., & Vincent, N.K. (2003). Psychiatric comorbidity in anorexia and bulimia nervosa: Nature, prevalence, and causal relationships. Clinical Pyschology Review, 23, 57-74.
  • Kaye, W.H., Bulik, C.M., Thornton, L., Barbarich, N., Masters, K., & Price Foundation Collaborative Group. (2004). Comorbidity of anxiety disorders with anorexia and bulimia nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 2215-2221.
  • Rosenvinge, J.H., Martinussen, M., & Ostensen, E. (2000). The comorbidity of eating disorders and personality disorders: A meta-analytic review of studies published between 1983 and 1998. Eating and Weight Disorders, 5, 52-61.
  • Hillege, S, Beale, B & McMaster, R (2006). Impact of eating disorders on family life: individual parents’ stories. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 15 (8), 1016-22.
  • National Eating Disorder Association
  • 1999 study published by Anne Becker, director of research at the Harvard Eating Disorders Center,


  • The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (2010). Eating Disorders Prevention, Treatment & Management: An Evidence Review. Retrieved from
  • Eating Disorders (1994). National Institute of Mental Health, NIH Publication No 94-3477.
  • Paxton, S. (1998). Do men get eating disorders? Everybody Newsletter of Body image and Health Inc., p. 41.
  • Sullivan, P. (1995). Mortality in Anorexia Nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 153, 1073-1074.
  • Steiner, H, Kwan, W, Shaffer, TG, Walker, S, Miller, S, Sagar, A & Lock, J Ibid.’Risk and protective factors for juvenile eating disorders’, vol. 12 Suppl 1, pp. I36-8.
  • Beumont, PJV & Touyz, SW Ibid. ‘What kind of illness is anorexia nervosa?’ vol. 12, pp. I/20-4.
  • Hamburg, P & Werne, J. (1996). ‘How long is long-term therapy for anorexia nervosa?’ in Treating eating disorders., Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, US, pp. 71-99.
  • Hillege, S, Beale, B & McMaster, R. (2006). Impact of eating disorders on family life: individual parents’ stories. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 15 (8), 1016-22.
  • Hay, P. (2004). Australian and New Zealand clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of anorexia nervosa. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 38 (9), 659-70.


  • Sullivan, P.F. (1995). Mortality in anorexia nervosa. American Journal Of Psychiatry, 152 (7), 1073-4.
  • Grilo, C.M., & Masheb, R.M. (2000). Onset of dieting vs. binge eating in outpatients with binge eating disorders. International Journal of Obesity, 24, 404-409.
  • Understanding Eating Disorders. (1997). The Eating Disorders Association Resource Centre.
  • Gaskill, D & Sanders, F. (2000). The Encultured Body: Policy Implications for healthy body image and distorted eating behaviours. Faculty of Health Queensland University of Technology.
  • Cooke, K.(1997). Real Gorgeous. Allen & Unwin, Sydney.
  • Grotheus, K. (1998). Eating Disorders and adolescents: an overview of maladaptive behaviour. Journal of child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 11 (4), 146-56.
  • Management of Mental Disorders. (1997). World Health Organisation, Darlinghurst.
  • Edelstein, C.K., Haskew, P. & Kramer, J.P. (1989). Early clues to anorexia and bulimia. Patient Care, 23 (13), 155.
  • Lindberg, L .& Hjern, A. (2003). Risk factors for anorexia nervosa: a national cohort study. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 34 (4), 397-408.

Binge Eating Disorder

  • Eating Disorders and Binge Eating Information Sheet (2006). The Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria
  • Wilfley, D.E., Agras, W.S., Telch, C.F., Rossiter, E.M., Schneider, J.A., Cole, A.G., Sifford, L. & Raeburn, S.D. (1993). Group cognitive-behavioral therapy and group interpersonal psychotherapy for the nonpurging bulimic individual: A controlled comparison. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61 (2), 296-305.
  • Paxton, S. (1998). Do men get eating disorders? Everybody Newsletter of Body image and Health Inc., p. 41.
  • The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. (1996). Universities of Newcastle and Queensland.
  • Eating Disorders and Binge Eating Information Sheet. (2006). The Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria.