Bulimia Statistics: Informing Treatment And Recovery

Like other eating disorders, bulimia nervosa can have fatal consequences if left untreated – and having access to accurate and reliable information about eating disorder statistics can be pivotal in encouraging treatment and recovery. This article will provide several key statistics about bulimia nervosa, including but not limited to:

  • How many people suffer from bulimia?
  • Are males or females more likely to have eating disorder symptoms?
  • What is the usual age of onset?

Read on for all the necessary info and statistics about this often-overlooked mental health disorder.

What Is Bulimia?

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that is associated with binge eating, calorie restriction, and a preoccupation with body size. However, unlike anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia may not exhibit overly restrictive weight control behaviors. Instead, they usually engage in the cycle of binge eating (excessive feeding) and purging (vomiting), or excessive exercise.

Diagnostic Criteria

Many people have issues with food and body shape, and a mental health professional needs to understand the difference between irregular eating habits and symptoms of an eating disorder. Here are the main signs of bulimia nervosa through the DSM-5’s official diagnostic criteria:

  • Recurrent binge eating episodes: This means eating a large amount of food within a short time frame plus a feeling like they lack control over this behavior.
  • Recurrent compensatory behavior or purging: This can manifest as vomiting, excessive exercise, prolonged fasting, or misuse of diet pills, diuretics, and laxatives.
  • The cycle continues for over three months: If a person exhibits binge eating and purging behaviors once a week for over three months, then they may have an eating disorder.
  • Low self-esteem and harsh self-evaluation: If a person bases their self-worth or self-esteem on their body weight, there may be cause for concern.

Eating Disorder Statistics And Why They Matter

Treatment is determined by information, and understanding the statistics surrounding a diagnosis can significantly improve the likelihood of a person receiving help when they need it most. This is especially important when dealing with eating disorders because individuals suffering from them have to contend with a laundry list of emotional and physical challenges.

However, the primary reason information and statistics are essential is that it helps address the stigma around eating disorders as a whole. Generally speaking, eating disorders are subject to higher levels of stigmatization than mood disorders like anxiety or depression – which can lead to reluctance toward treatment and getting help.

High-quality information is an essential part of treatment. That’s because many people either think they’re alone or “weird” or feel that their eating disorder is “unimportant” and “not dire enough”. Understanding that millions of people suffer from eating disorders may be enough for a person to get treated.

Bulimia Statistics

Earlier, we established that information is essential to treatment. Here are some of the key statistics about bulimia and other related eating disorders.

Biological Sex

While eating disorders may be associated with women, both males and females suffer from bulimia nervosa. However, national surveys have reported that 1.5% of women in the United States have experienced symptoms of bulimia in their lifetimes, while 0.5% of men go through the same thing. While these percentages may sound minute, this actually translates to approximately 4.7 million females and 1.5 million males struggling with a dangerous eating disorder.

Gender Identity And Sexual Orientation

Gay men, transgender people, and non-binary individuals, in particular, are more likely to develop habits and behaviors associated with eating disorders.

For example, gay men are seven times more likely to engage in binge eating and twelve times more likely to purge afterward. The same is true about reported laxative and diuretic abuse, even on a subclinical level. Consequentially, 42% of all men diagnosed with an eating disorder also identify as gay.

Transgender people also tend to suffer an increased risk of disordered eating, and college-aged trans folks are four times more likely to develop symptoms than their cisgender classmates. Some folks may engage in disordered eating to “modify their bodies without hormones”, while others believe it has nothing to do with their physical appearance. Non-binary people may also exhibit overly restrictive behaviors to fit the “slender and androgynous” archetype of being genderless.

Age

A common myth is that most people who develop an eating disorder are usually under the age of 25 – but the truth is that there’s no age requirement for eating disorders. It’s present in high school students, young adults, and folks deep into their sixties. Teenage girls and boys have a 0.3% lifetime prevalence, which is true until the age of 29.  On the other hand, people between the ages of 30-59 have a lifetime prevalence of 0.4%, dipping after the age of 60 at 0.1% prevalence.

Comorbidity

Comorbidity refers to the simultaneous presence of two or more diseases or medical conditions, and eating disorders tend to have a few comorbid mental health issues. Generally speaking, half of all people suffering from an eating disorder also experience a mood disorder. However, bulimia nervosa has a higher comorbidity rate, with roughly 94.5% of all patients also suffering from depression, anxiety disorder, binge eating disorder, or anorexia.

Here’s a tabulation of data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH)

Comorbidity of Bulimia Nervosa with Other Disorders
Comorbidity With Bulimia (%)
Anxiety Disorders 80.6
Mood Disorders 70.7
Impulse Control Disorder 63.8
Substance Use Disorder 36.8
Other Disorders 94.5

 

Culture And Occupation

Certain groups of people usually have a higher lifetime prevalence of any mental health disorder – and bulimia is no exception. That said, culture and environmental factors are the biggest contributors to developing an eating disorder. As a result, it’s no surprise that people who engage in activities or have occupations focused on body weight are also more likely to develop disordered eating.

Specifically, college students that are also athletes tend to be more susceptible to developing eating disorders at 13.5% versus 4.6% in non-athletes. The same logic applies to career athletes like swimmers, ballet dancers, figure skaters, or wrestlers. However, this isn’t to say that the uptick in susceptibility is exclusive to athletes – models and pageant queens experience the same.

Mortality Rates

Eating disorders can be deadly, and individuals suffering from bulimia nervosa have a standardized mortality rate of roughly 1.5 – meaning they’re 1.5 times more likely to die than peers without eating disorders. While this is lower than individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa at 5.86, the consequences of remaining untreated are dire. That’s because much of the elevated risk of death is due to suicide.

The Bottom Line

Statistics and information are one part of the treatment and recovery puzzle when it comes to eating disorders like bulimia, but the real work happens when you decide to reach out. If you or someone you know may be suffering from bulimia, don’t wait until it’s too late.

Send us a message so we can discuss your treatment options and get you or your loved one on the path to recovery and wellness.

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