While eating disorders can affect anyone, research has shown that people of racial and ethnic minority groups are half as likely to be diagnosed or receive treatment. In addition, some studies report high rates of eating disorder symptoms among transgender communities. Eating disorders most often appear during the teen years or in young adults, but in recent years there has been an increase in cases among children and older adults. There is also a rise in eating disorders among military service members.
Risk Factors for Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are both physical and mental health conditions. While the exact cause of eating disorders is not known, research shows a strong connection to people trying to cope with overwhelming situations and emotions. Some of the factors that increase a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder include:
- Family History
- Serious life changes, such as going to college, dealing with the loss of a loved one, or adjusting to changes during a public health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic
- Anxiety, depression or mood disorders
- Experiences with trauma, bullying, rejection, and/or isolation
- Professions such as dancers, athletes, and entertainers
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the rates of eating disorder symptoms and hospitalizations, particularly among teens and young adults. Changes in daily routines and physical activity have increased the focus on weight and shape. In addition, elevated exposure to media emphasizing weight and body-image have increased attention on body comparison and dieting contributing to negative eating patterns.
Eating Disorders and Women’s Health
Women and girls and more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder. If not treated, they can cause serious health conditions such as heart disease, tooth loss, gastrointestinal issues, brain damage, bone loss and many other health conditions. They can also lead to infertility, low birth weight, and premature birth. Eating disorders also increase anxiety, depression, and risk of suicide.
With early detection, intervention, and community support,
recovery is possible.
Key Messages on Eating Disorders
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are serious mental health conditions.
- Some of the most common risk factors for eating disorders include:
- Experiences of violence and trauma
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Anxiety, depression, and lower stress management
- Rejections by friends, family, and co-workers
- Discrimination (race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, body size, lifestyle or a number of other factors)
- Being a victim of bullying
- Increase pressures from society around body image and body weight
- Food insecurity has been indicated as a risk factor for eating disorders.
- During COVID-19, increases in isolation, concerns about childcare, virtual education, job stability, and dealing with the illness and loss of loved ones, have increased susceptibility to eating disorders.
- Many individuals have deferred or postponed medical care during the pandemic. As a result, many of the symptoms of eating disorders continue to go unnoticed, undertreated, or untreated. Untreated and under treated eating disorders can have detrimental effects on individual and community health.
- With early intervention and continuous support, recovery from an eating disorder is possible.
- Trainings are available to help health professionals, family and other community members better recognize the symptoms and get people the care they need.
- Treatment is not one-size-fits-all and should be tailored to individual needs.
- Family and other social support are vital to successful eating disorder treatment.
- Through education, early detection, better care, increased access to mental health services, and less stigma, we can reduce the number of lives lost to eating disorders.
How can I participate in National Eating Disorders Awareness Week?
Learn the symptoms of eating disorders
Eating disorders can be hard to recognize in yourself and in others. There is no “one look” to eating disorders and we cannot tell when people have an eating disorder based on their size or appearance. Learning to recognize the symptoms is the best way we can quickly get people to the care and treatment they need. To learn the symptoms of eating disorders, visit the OWH Eating Disorders.
If you notice unusual eating patterns or attitudes about food in yourself, it is important to get help. Talk to someone you trust and make an appointment to see your healthcare provider immediately. The earlier you talk with your provider, the early you can get into care and have a treatment plan tailored for you. Recovery from an eating disorder is possible and you don’t have to navigate recovery alone.
Get more information about the symptoms of eating disorders here:
Information for Individuals Living with Eating Disorders
Information and Trainings for Health Professionals
For additional information and resources on eating disorders, visit the NEDAW Toolkit and Resources Page.
Support family, friends and others in your community
Health professionals, family and friends can play an important role in helping those with eating disorders get the care and support they need to recover.
Treatment for eating disorders is only one part of recovery. The ongoing support and encouragement of family and friends can reinforce the message that your loved one is not alone and has a support system they can lean on during times of stressful situations and triggering events. This can help them avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms. Remember, the recovery process may be long but with early intervention and family and community support, it is possible.
Information for Family Members and Friends
If you suspect someone with an eating disorder is in crisis, get help immediately, by contacting one of the resources below:
- Emergency Medical Services - Call 911
- SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline - Call 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4227)
To get general information on mental health and locate treatment services in your area.
Speak to a live person, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET
Spread the Word
Use OWH's toolkit to share messages, graphics, and resources to support those living with eating disorders and others that may be at risk of developing an eating disorder. Make sure you use #HHSNEDAW in your posts.
Participate in our NEDAW activities during the Week
February 24, 2022 Time: 2:00 PM ET
Eating Disorders and the COVID-19 Pandemic Summit
Hosted by HHS Offices: Office on Women’s Health, Office on Population Affairs
Watch the summit as health providers and researchers discuss trends in eating disorders and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on eating disorder symptoms and hospitalizations.
Click here for replay.