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How Common Is Eating Disorders In Australia

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How Common Are Eating Disorders

  • Approximately 30 million Americans live with an eating disorder.
  • Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness among adolescent females in the United States.
  • 10 million men in the U.S. will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime.
  • The lifetime prevalence of eating disorders is highest among those with a binge eating disorder .

Prevalence And Sociodemographic Correlates Of Dsm

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for eating disorders were revised in 2013 . In the DSM-IV three eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder ), had specific criteria. People who did not meet criteria but nevertheless had an eating disorder were also classified under EDNOS. EDNOS was, however, the most common of all the syndromes in both the clinic and community . A key aim of the revision was to broaden criteria for bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa and include BED as a third, formal diagnosis. For bulimia nervosa and BED the specific change was to reduce frequency of binge eating from twice to once weekly and for BED the duration of symptoms was aligned with bulimia nervosa to be 3-months rather than 6-months . EDNOS has also been revised into two new categories: Other Specified Eating or Feeding Disorder and Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder . OSFED has two groups characterized by recurrent binge eating, namely, sub-threshold bulimia nervosa and sub-threshold BED where binge eating frequency and/or the duration of compensatory behaviours are less than weekly for three months. A further overeating subtype of OSFED, night eating syndrome, does not specify that the excessive food consumption entails binge eating episodes.

Encourage Older Children And Adolescents To Feel Good About Their Bodies

There are lots of ways to help your children feel good about their bodies, including: 

  • Show an acceptance of different body shapes and sizes, including your own. 
  • Make a positive effort to portray your own body as functional and well-designed.
  • Demonstrate healthy eating and engage in physical activity for health and enjoyment.
  • Don’t criticise or tease your children about their appearance.
  • Encourage your children to ‘listen’ to their bodies and to become familiar with different physical feelings and experiences.
  • Encourage sport and regular exercise to help maintain your child’s health and fitness and foster their body confidence.

Assessment Of Eating Disorder Features

For the purpose of creating mutually exclusive diagnostic categories, the following criteria were used to define the DSM-5 diagnostic terms: anorexia nervosa was defined as participants with BMI < 18 and weight/shape overvaluation at a level of 4, 5 or 6 ; bulimia nervosa was defined as participants with weekly objectively large binge eating episodes and purging episodes or strict dieting occurring weekly and weight/shape overvaluation at a level of 4, 5 or 6 and BMI 18 or more ; BED was defined as participants with weekly objectively large being eating episodes, no weekly purging and BMI 18 or more ; OSFED bulimia nervosa-type was defined as less than weekly objective bulimic episodes, weekly purging or dieting weekly and weight/shape overvaluation at a level of 4, 5 or 6; OSFED BED-type was defined as less than weekly objective bulimic episodes, no weekly purging or dieting, and not meeting criteria for AN; OSFED purging disorder was defined as having weekly purging episodes, no objectively large binge eating episodes and not meeting criteria for anorexia nervosa; and UFED was defined as having weekly subjective and/or objective binge eating episodes, or weekly purging episodes, or strict dieting with overvaluation, or strict dieting with BMI <18, and not meeting criteria for another diagnostic category.

Why Teenagers Can Be At Risk Of Disordered Eating And Eating Disorders

Statistics and Trends

We dont know why some children develop eating disorders. But adolescence can be a risky time for teenagers treating their bodies in unhealthy ways.

During adolescence, your childs body and your childs brain grow and develop very quickly. There are lots of changes going on in the way your child thinks, feels and relates to people. Many teenagers are more aware of body image.

At the same time, your child needs more of the right kinds of food. But it can be harder to keep up with teenage nutritional needs because theyre growing so fast.

Lifestyle and food habits might change as your child begins to eat more meals and snacks away from home.

And this is also a time when young people are more aware of and influenced by media messages and information at school about health, obesity and dieting.

So you might notice some changes in your childs eating habits and attitudes towards food, including:

  • eating at random times and/or skipping meals
  • eating more convenience foods and high-energy sugary snacks and drinks
  • being more aware of information about healthy eating, obesity and diets
  • experimenting with dieting and restrictive eating that is, not eating certain foods or food groups.

The combination of all these things can lead some teenagers to develop eating habits that arent good for their growing bodies.

Eating Disorder Treatment And Recovery

  • It is estimated that 75% of people with an eating disorder dont seek professional help . 
  • The reasons/ barriers for not accessing treatment include stigma, shame, denial, failure to perceive the severity of the illness, cost of treatment, low motivation to change, lack of encouragement and lack of knowledge about how to access help resources .  
  • The most effective treatment for eating disorder is person-centred care, tailored to suit the individuals illness, situation and needs . 
  • The average time taken to recover from all types of eating disorders, after seeking treatment, is 1-6 years .
  • When skilled and knowledgeable health professionals deliver treatment, full recovery and good quality of life can be achieved for the majority of people with eating disorders .  

Treatment for eating disorders

In 20 Australians Are Living With An Eating Disorder

Did you know around one-in-20 Australians, and an estimated four-to-seven per cent of our adult population, are living with an eating disorder?

Or that the prevalence of eating disorders is on the rise, with a two-fold increase in disordered eating behaviours observed in Australian communities over the past decade?

There are four main types of eating disorders â anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder and other specified feeding or eating disorders .

Our researchers at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane, are representing the Australian arm of Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative â the worldâs largest genetics investigation of eating disorders ever performed.  The Australian arm of EDGI aims to identify the hundreds of genes that influence a personâs risk of developing the complex, devastating illnesses of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder, to improve treatment, and ultimately, save lives.

Aside from genetics, developmental challenges , thinking styles , body dissatisfaction, and socio-cultural pressures can all contribute to the onset of eating disorders.

Here are some stats and facts about eating disorders in Australia:

If you have experienced anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder, please to volunteer for EDGI AUS today.

Impact of social media on people living with eating disorders during COVID-19

EDGI Talks Professor Cynthia M. Bulik speaks to Dr June Alexander

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Boys And Girls Experience Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are more likely to affect females than males. However, about 25 per cent of cases in adolescents occur with males. Girls and boys can experience different social pressures about how they should look. Primary school-aged children are not immune to these pressures, and their attitudes and behaviours reflect adult concerns.Like many adult females, some girls want to lose weight and be thin. Like many adult males, some boys want to lose body fat, but increase muscle mass. Some boys try to meet unrealistically thin ideal standards.

Eating Disorders During Covid

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on most people around the world. One of the unfortunate consequences of the pandemic is the rise in eating disorders and eating disorder behaviours.

To shed some light on the impact of COVID-19 on eating disorders, lets dive into the latest statistics reported in the most recent research studies conducted during this period Phillipou, A., Meyer, D., Neill, E., Tan, E. J., Toh, W. L., Van Rheenen, T. E., & Rossell, S. L. . Eating and exercise behaviors in eating disorders and the general population during the COVID19 pandemic in Australia: Initial results from the COLLATE project. International Journal of Eating Disorders53, 1158-1165. Schlegl, S., Maier, J., Meule, A., & Voderholzer, U. . Eating disorders in times of the COVID19 pandemicResults from an online survey of patients with anorexia nervosa. International Journal of Eating Disorders53, 1791-1800. Branley-Bell, D., & Talbot, C. V. . Exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and UK lockdown on individuals with experience of eating disorders. Journal of eating disorders8, 1-12.

  • 65% of people with an eating disorder reported more food restriction during
  • 35% of people with an eating disorder reported more frequent binge episodes
  • 19% of people with an eating disorder reported more frequent purging episodes
  • Among individuals with anorexia nervosa, 50% reported moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety during the pandemic
  • Talking With Your Child About Disordered Eating And Eating Disorders

    If you notice any of the red flags above, you need to talk with your child and a health professional as soon as you can. If you just think that something isnt right about the way your child is eating or behaving around food, trust your judgment and talk with your child.

    Its important to be sensitive, caring and non-judgmental when you talk with your child about food, weight and body image, but it could be a tricky conversation.

    You might feel really worried, and your child might get angry and say that there isnt a problem. Even if this happens, try to stay calm and send the message that youre concerned about your childs health and wellbeing, not your childs weight and appearance. You might need to say that you think your child needs to see a health professional.

    If youre not sure how to talk about these issues, you could first visit your GP or mental health professional and ask for help. Contacting a support organisation for eating disorders is another option.

    If your child has an eating disorder, your love and support will be very important in helping your child get better.

    Risk Factors For Eating Disorders

    We don’t know why some older children , particularly adolescents, develop an eating disorder and others don’t. However, many factors might influence an adolescent to develop an unhealthy eating pattern or to become afraid of gaining weight. These factors may be psychological, social, environmental or biological.

    Often, a combination of things may trigger an eating disorder in a vulnerable person.

    What Are Eating Disorders And Disordered Eating

    Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that also affect physical health.

    The most common eating disorders are:

    • anorexia nervosa, which is when someone tries to lose more weight than is healthy and has a distorted body image
    • bulimia nervosa, which is when someone eats very large amounts of food and then gets rid of the food for example, by vomiting or using laxatives
    • avoidant restrictive food intake disorder , which is when someone eats only a small range or amount of food and doesn’t get all the nutrients they need
    • binge eating disorder, which is when someone eats very large amounts of food and feels distressed about their eating, but doesnt try to get rid of the food.

    Disordered eating is behaviour that isnt quite as severe or regular as the behaviour in anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. Disordered eating can be just as serious as the other eating disorders, and it needs treatment too. Someone with disordered eating might be at risk of developing an eating disorder.

    Although girls are most at risk of eating disorders, boys can develop them too. Boys sometimes go untreated for longer because parents and health professionals arent looking for body image and eating problems in boys.

    Language Delay Speech Disorder And Developmental Language Disorder

    Going to extremes: Eating disorders

    Language delay is when young children have difficulties understanding and/or using spoken language. If a child has a language delay that doesnt go away, this might be a sign of a developmental language disorder. Children with developmental language disorders have language difficulties that affect their everyday lives and make it harder for them to learn to read.

    A speech disorder is when children have difficulty pronouncing the sounds in words. Children with speech disorders dont necessarily have language delay or developmental language disorder.

    Not all children who have language delay have problems with speech.

    How common are language delays and disorders in autistic children? Autistic children have trouble communicating with others, which means their social communication development can be delayed or disordered. They might also have difficulties with other aspects of language, but their speech development is the least likely to be affected. About 25-50% of autistic children cant communicate verbally.

    How are language delays and language disorders treated?Speech pathologists help children with speech and language problems. They might recommend individual or group programs that build language skills. They might also help children develop other ways to communicate, like pictures or picture boards, key word signing or speech generating devices.

    Find out more

    How Many People Die From Anorexia Nervosa

    Its not currently known how many people in total have died from anorexia nervosa. However, what we do know is that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 with anorexia have ten times the risk of dying compared to their same-aged peersArcelus, J., Mitchell, A. J., Wales, J., & Nielsen, S. . Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders: a meta-analysis of 36 studies. Archives of general psychiatry, 68, 724-731.. It is also worth noting that around 10,200 deaths in 2018-2019 in the USA were attributed to eating disorders, with anorexia nervosa making up a large proportion of theseSTRIPED Harvard. 2020. Report: Economic Costs Of Eating Disorders. Available at: ..

    Foster A Healthy Relationship With Food

    You can encourage older children and adolescents to develop a healthy relationship with food if you: 

    • Try not to label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ this sets up cravings and feelings of guilt when the ‘bad’ foods are eaten.
    • Avoid using food as a reward, or for bribes or punishment.
    • Accept that children are likely to have different eating habits from adults for instance, adolescents may require more food more frequently during the day or may go through periods of liking or disliking particular foods.
    • Avoid going on diets and do not try to put your child on a diet.
    • Allow your child to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Do not force your child to eat everything that is on their plate.

    Eating Disorders And Rationale For A Scoping Review

    Eating disorders are a group of mental disorders characterised by persistent disturbances in eating or eating related behaviour resulting in altered consumption or absorption of food, with accompanying psychopathology such as excessive body image concern and significant psychosocial impairment and distress . Unique amongst mental health problems they are associated with significant physical morbidity involving many organ systems as a result of starvation, obesity or eating disorder related behaviours such as purging . Eating disorders are also amongst the most life-threatening mental disorders, with a 6-fold increase in attempted suicide in those affected, and a persistently elevated risk of suicide after recovery . Eating disorders are also very common, being prevalent in up to 22% of young Australians and in 2011 accounting for 1.4% of the burden of non-fatal disease in Australia .

    Eating Disorder Statistics By Age

    • Globally, 13% of women older than 50 experience disordered eating behaviors.
    • The median age of eating disorder onset was 21 years old for binge eating disorder and 18 years old for anorexia and bulimia nervosa.
    • The lifetime prevalence of eating disorders in the U.S. was 2.7% among adolescents as of 2001-2004.
    • Of adolescents with eating disorders, the 17- to 18-year-old age group had the highest prevalence .

    Researchers followed a group of 496 adolescent girls in a U.S. city over a span of eight years and found that by the age of 20: 

    • More than 5% of the girls met the criteria for anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.
    • More than 13% of the girls had experienced an eating disorder when including non-specific eating disorder symptoms.

    What Should I Do If I Think I Have An Eating Disorder

    Talk to someone you trust such as a close friend or family member if you think you have an eating disorder. You can also call the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline . You can also call the Butterfly Foundation for advice if you’re concerned about a family member or friend.

    Your doctor can advise you on diagnosis and possible treatment options, which will depend on your individual circumstances and the type of eating disorder you have.

    Eating Disorders And Gender

    • 63% of people with eating disorders in Australia are female and 37% male
    • Women and girls are more likely to experience all types of eating disorders than men and boys, with the exception of Binge Eating Disorder where there is almost equal prevalence . 
    • Approximately 80-85% of individuals diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa are female and 15-20% of people with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are male .  
    • The gender distribution for Binge Eating Disorder is roughly equal for males and females . 
    • 15% of all women will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime .  
    • Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness in young women . 
    • Eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours in boys and men may present differently than in girls and women, particularly with muscularity-oriented disordered eating . 
    • Research suggests that transgender people, whose assigned sex at birth does not match their gender identity, are more likely than cisgender people, whose assigned sex at birth matches their gender identity, to have been diagnosed with an eating disorder or to engage in disordered eating . 
    • Research indicates that both transfeminine spectrum and transmasculine spectrum individuals had higher levels of disordered eating and body dissatisfaction than cisgender participants .  
    • An Australian study found that 23% of transgender young people have a current or previous diagnosis of an eating disorder . 

    Did you know?

    What Causes Them

    Experts believe that eating disorders may be caused by a variety of factors.

    One of these is genetics. Twin and adoption studies involving twins who were separated at birth and adopted by different families provide some evidence that eating disorders may be hereditary.

    This type of research has generally shown that if one twin develops an eating disorder, the other has a 50% likelihood of developing one too, on average .

    Personality traits are another cause. In particular, neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity are three personality traits often linked to a higher risk of developing an eating disorder .

    Other potential causes include perceived pressures to be thin, cultural preferences for thinness, and exposure to media promoting such ideals .

    In fact, certain eating disorders appear to be mostly nonexistent in cultures that havent been exposed to Western ideals of thinness .

    That said, culturally accepted ideals of thinness are very present in many areas of the world. Yet, in some countries, few individuals end up developing an eating disorder. Thus, they are likely caused by a mix of factors.

    More recently, experts have proposed that differences in brain structure and biology may also play a role in the development of eating disorders.

    In particular, levels of the brain messengers serotonin and dopamine may be factors 00704-5/fulltext” rel=”nofollow”>5, ).

    However, more studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.

    Who Can We Help


    • People with eating or body image issues whether you are concerned you might be experiencing one, are in recovery, relapse or not completely sure if youre ready for recovery
    • Family, friends, partners and colleagues of people with an eating disorder or body image issue
    • Teachers
    • Anyone with a question about eating disorders or body image.

    What To Do If This Sounds Like You

    Many people with eating disorders feel that theyre not sick enough or thin enough to need help. Even if youre not sure whether or not you have a diagnosable eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, its important that you talk to someone. The effects of severely restricting your food intake or of making yourself vomit can put you at risk of serious medical complications regardless of how much you weigh.

    It can be hard to know where to find the right support you need. ReachOut NextStep is an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with. It can help you work out what’s going on and provide personalised support recommendations. Try the ReachOut NextStep tool to learn about the support options available for you.

    Types Of Eating Disorders

    The main types of eating disorder include: 

    • anorexia nervosa characterised by restricted eating, loss of weight and a fear of putting on weight
    • bulimia nervosa periods of binge eating , followed by attempts to compensate by excessively exercising, vomiting, or periods of strict dieting. Binge eating is often accompanied by feelings of shame and being ‘out of control’
    • binge eating disorder characterised by recurrent periods of binge eating . Feelings of guilt, disgust and depression can follow binge eating episodes. Binge eating does not involve compensatory behaviours
    • other specified feeding or eating disorder feeding or eating behaviours that cause the individual distress and impairment, but do not meet criteria for the first three eating disorders.

    Taking Action For Change

    Learn more about the different types of eating disorder

    There are different types of eating disorder – including binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and other specified feeding or eating disorder . Each one has specific characteristics and potentially different treatments. Anyone, regardless of their age, gender or ethnicity, can develop an eating disorder.

    Psychotherapy can be effective

    Psychotherapy can be used to help control and reshape your behaviours, emotions, and patterns of thinking. Sessions are usually run by a psychologist. However, these approaches may also be used by other health professionals including psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and counsellors.

    Nutritional management is an important part of recovery

    Nutritional management ensures you are getting enough nourishment and helps you develop healthy eating habits, thoughts, and behaviours. A nutritionist or a dietitian will usually support you in managing your diet and will help you with meal planning. Apps like Recovery Record can be a useful way for you and your treatment team to manage your daily nutrition.

    Family approaches are common for younger people

    For younger people, early intervention approaches that involve your whole family in understanding the disorder and supporting your recovery have been shown to be most effective. Family approaches can also be effective for adults and bring together family or close friends as part of a support network.  

    Developing coping strategies

    Data Extraction And Synthesis

    Figure  displays the article selection process. A table was developed for each research question extracting and summarising study characteristics:

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    What is the volume and content of literature on eating disorders and disordered eating amongst indigenous Australians?

  • Fig. 1

    Study details and characteristics: citation, country, context, participants, ethical considerations for Indigenous Australians. Results extracted from the study: type or quality of assessment of eating disorders/disordered eating , what was assessed, what was reported in regard to epidemiology.

  • 2.

    Has a screening or diagnostic tool/instrument been developed for the assessment of eating disorders amongst indigenous Australians?

  • Study details and characteristics: citation, country and context. Numbers, gender, response rate and ethnicity of participants. As well as ethical considerations for Indigenous Australians. Results extracted from the study such as quality of life domains assessed, number of items in the tool, details of psychometric validation of the tool.

    A narrative synthesis of the data was performed, this type of synthesis is appropriate for studies scoping research such as this and is frequently used in scoping and systematic reviews .

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