First National Survey on Eating Disorders Finds Binge Eating More Common Than Other Eating Disorders

February 01, 2007

Public Affairs
Adriana Bobinchock

- The first national survey of individuals with eating disorders shows that binge eating disorder is more prevalent than either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. The study, conducted by researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, also calls binge eating disorder a "major public health burden" because of its direct link to severe obesity and other serious health effects. "For the first time, we have nationally representative data on eating disorders. These data clearly show that binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder," says lead author James I. Hudson, MD, ScD, director of the Psychiatric Epidemiology Research Program at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

McLean Hospital
Press Conference

January 31, 2007

Discussion Topic: The First
National Survey on
Eating Disorders

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MP3 Audio file (46:51)

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The study (PubMed), published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry, is based on data obtained over two years in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), a survey of more than 9,000 people from across the United States about their mental health. Ronald C. Kessler, PhD, principal investigator of the NCS-R, and Eva Hiripi, of Harvard Medical School, and Harrison Pope Jr., MD, director of McLean Hospital's Biological Psychiatry Laboratory, are co-authors of the paper.

The survey found that 0.9 percent of women and 0.3 percent of men reported having anorexia nervosa at some point in their lives, and that 1.5 percent of women and 0.5 percent of men reported having bulimia nervosa. By contrast, binge eating disorder, a condition in which individuals experience frequent uncontrolled eating binges without purging, afflicts 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men at some point in their lives.

"Everybody knows about anorexia and bulimia; however, binge eating disorder affects more people, is often associated with severe obesity and tends to persist longer,'' Hudson says. "The consequences of binge eating disorder can be serious-including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. It is imperative that health experts take notice of these findings."

The survey also found that the average lifetime duration of anorexia was 1.7 years, compared to 8.3 years for bulimia and 8.1 years for binge eating disorder. "Contrary to what people may believe, anorexia is not necessarily a chronic illness; in many cases, it runs its course and people get better without seeking treatment. So our survey suggests that for every one severe case [of anorexia], there may be many other milder cases."

The survey calls for further study of why some individuals with anorexia are able to recover more quickly and why others are crippled by the illness, say Hudson and Pope. "If we identified the factors that allowed people to recover from eating disorders quicker than others, then we might be better able to prevent the chronic, severe cases."

The findings, say Hudson and Pope, offer additional scientific support for including the diagnosis of binge eating disorder as an official psychiatric diagnosis in the next edition of the American Psychiatric Association's "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders."

U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks McLean Hospital the nation's top psychiatric hospital. McLean is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital, and a member of Partners HealthCare.


The following experts on eating disorders, who are aware of the survey's findings but are not associated with it, have agreed to be contacted by members of the media for comment:

Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, FAED
William and Jeanne Jordan Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders
Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine
Professor of Nutrition, School of Public Heath
Director, UNC Eating Disorders Program
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Phone: (919) 843 1689

Ruth Striegel-Moore, Ph.D.
Walter A. Crowell University Professor of Social Sciences and Professor of Psychology
Wesleyan University
Phone: 860-685-2328.

Joel Yager, MD
Professor and Vice Chair for Education and Academic Affairs
Department of Psychiatry
University of New Mexico School of Medicine
phone: 505-272-5416

Marc Lerro, Executive Director
Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action
Washington DC 20003-4303
Phone: 202-543-9570

Frequently asked questions about binge eating disorder

WBUR Here & Now: Study Spotlights Eating Disorder (RealAudio link)
Story aired: Thursday, February 01, 2007

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