Millions of people are affected by eating disorders, which can be life-threatening illnesses. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says there has been unprecedented growth of eating disorders over the last 20 years, and research for this medical condition is under-funded. The pressures to remain thin and fit continue to be profound and problematic, spurring new generations of people to develop poor body image perceptions and behaviors.

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia are well known, but the term eating disorder includes other conditions, such as binge eating, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), and “diabulimia,” which is deliberate insulin underuse in people with type 1 diabetes for the purpose of controlling weight. To shed further light on these conditions, here are some eye-opening statistics and information, courtesy of NEDA and the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).

  • At least 30 million people of all ages and genders in the U.S. suffer from an eating disorder.
  • Cardiovascular impairment is a primary symptom of eating disorders, as consuming fewer calories than one needs can break down muscles in the body — including the heart.
  • Purging depletes the body’s important chemicals called electrolytes, which help maintain heartbeat and muscle contraction.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
  • Food restriction and purging by vomiting interferes with the stomach’s ability to empty normally, which can affect the digestion of nutrients and lead to bacterial infections, blocked intestines from undigested food, and bloating.
  • Binge eating can cause the stomach to rupture, which can be life-threatening.
  • Both malnutrition and purging can cause pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas.
  • ARFID goes beyond “picky eating.” Children do not grow out of it and frequently become malnourished because of the limited variety of foods they consume.
  • About 38 percent of females and 16 percent of males with type 1 diabetes have eating disorders.
  • Based on data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, the average age of onset for binge eating disorder is 21, and age 18 for both bulimia and anorexia nervosa.

If you, or a loved one, has an eating disorder, contact a family physician for immediate assistance. The Eating Disorders Association of WNY located at 339 Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo is a great resource. Call 716-885-8834 or visit