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Statistics: Eating Disorders and their Precursors

By Tricia Andor, Licensed Professional Counselor

I’ve featured the topic of “Your Relationship With Food” in the past couple of blog posts; today here’s some statistics on the same topic.

When I was in Thailand training counselors, one of the staff remarked how “Americans have so many statistics. They love statistics.” Indeed we do, and here they are. Although the following aren’t the sorts of statistics one typically finds themselves loving the content of, they are helpful for obtaining an honest assessment about what’s going on at the dinner table and in mirrors in the United States.

All of the following information is from the National Eating Disorders Association

The Prevalence of Eating Disorders

In the United States, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Millions more are struggling with binge eating disorder (Crowther et al., 1992; Fairburn et al., 1993; Gordon, 1990; Hoek, 1995; Shisslak et al., 1995).

Because of the secretiveness and shame associated with eating disorders, many cases are probably not reported. In addition, many individuals struggle with body dissatisfaction and sub-clinical disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. For example, it has been shown that 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance (Smolak, 1996).

The Drive for Thinness

· 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991).

· 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991).

· The average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5’11” tall and weighs 117 pounds.

· Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women (Smolak, 1996).


shape - be a diet success
· 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets (Gustafson-Larson & Terry, 1992).

· 91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22% dieted “often” or “always” (Kurth et al., 1995).

· 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years (Grodstein, et al., 1996).

· 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders (Shisslak & Crago, 1995).

· 25% of American men and 45% of American women are on a diet on any given day (Smolak, 1996).

· Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005).

· Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don’t diet (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005).

· Americans spend over $40 billion on dieting and diet-related products each year (Smolak, 1996).