How Many People Actually Have Eating Disorders, Anyway?

How Many People Actually Have Eating Disorders, Anyway?

We see portrayals of eating disorders on TV and in movies, we read about the risks on social media, and we might even have a friend or family member who struggles with an eating disorder. Maybe we struggle with one ourselves?

It’s hard to sort through fact and fiction. How many people have eating disorders? Today we’ll look at what the statistics tell us.

But before we do, let’s pay attention to what these numbers hint at: if you or someone you love struggles with an eating disorder, you’re not alone.

Eating Disorders Are Far-Reaching

Surveys show that just about anyone and everyone can be susceptible to an eating disorder—regardless of age, sex, birthplace, race, or body type. That means we can’t just look at a person and say, “There’s no way he has an eating disorder.”

In fact, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, 30 million Americans will struggle with an eating disorder—if not already, then at some point during their lives.1

 And as our understanding of eating disorders evolves, so do our definitions. While clinical criteria remain strict on what constitutes an eating disorder, researchers are learning that actual symptoms vary greatly, meaning there are probably so many people with eating disorders who are still unaccounted for.

One study demonstrates how our understanding of eating disorders can influence statistics. When sticking to the DSM definitions for anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder, 5.2% of girls observed from age 8 to age 20 were found to struggle with an eating disorder. But when researchers evaluated these same girls on a broader scale, the rate of confirmed eating disorders jumped to 13.2%.2

You can see how easily that estimate of 30 million Americans with an eating disorder could jump much higher with an expanded definition of criteria. Still, moving forward, we’ll look at the numbers as they stand today. Especially regarding the three most common eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder.

How Many People Struggle with Anorexia, Bulimia, or Binge-Eating Disorder?

While there are 10 recognized eating disorders, we will focus our statistical information on the most-studied and most common disorders.

With the official DSM5 criteria in mind:

Anorexia affects up to 2% of women and up to 0.3% of men.

Bulimia affects up to 4.6% of women and up to 0.5% of men.

Binge-Eating Disorder (BED) affects up to 3.5% of women and up to 2% of men.

Because percentages can be somewhat difficult to translate into a real-world application, we need to make these numbers more tangible. The National Eating Disorder Association explains that “BED is more common than breast cancer, HIV and schizophrenia.”


A Few Other Considerations Regarding Eating Disorder Statistics

There are specific situations that result in a higher incidence of eating disorders. These include children who hear frequent talk of weight and body issues, people with a co-occurring disorder (especially depression or PTSD), as well as gay men, and transgender people.2

If you think you might also be struggling with an eating disorder, remember: you are not alone. Eating disorders are serious, yes, but they’re also very treatable. Shoreline can help. Connect with us at 562-434-6007 or through our contact form.




  1. National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). “What Are Eating Disorders?”
  2. National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).”Statistics & Research On Eating Disorders.”