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Posted: September 7th, 2023

Eating Disorders: Prevalence, Causes, and Treatment

Eating Disorders: Prevalence, Causes, and Treatment
Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that involve disruptive eating behaviors and distress or concern about body weight, shape, or size (National Eating Disorders Association, 2022). The three main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. In this article, I will discuss the prevalence of eating disorders, potential causes, and treatment options.
Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, and ethnicities. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (2022), about 9% of the US population will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. Rates appear to be increasing, especially among males (Swanson et al., 2011). Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness (Smink et al., 2012).
While the exact causes of eating disorders are complex and not fully understood, research suggests that biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors all play a role (Striegel-Moore & Bulik, 2007). Genetics may increase vulnerability, as eating disorders often run in families (Klump, 2013). Personality traits like perfectionism and negative thinking patterns can also contribute (Hilbert et al., 2019). Sociocultural pressures that idealize thinness, especially in Western cultures, may trigger body dissatisfaction and dieting in some individuals (Ata et al., 2007). Stressful life events or trauma may also precede the onset of an eating disorder in vulnerable people (Brewerton, 2007).
The first step in treatment is often weight restoration through medical monitoring, followed by individual or family-based psychotherapy (Lock et al., 2010). Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown effectiveness in treating eating disorders by modifying dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors (Fairburn et al., 2015). Interpersonal psychotherapy can also help patients understand how relationships and life events influence their eating disorder (Agras et al., 2000). Medications may be used to treat comorbid depression or anxiety, but there are currently no FDA-approved medications specifically for eating disorders (Kaye et al., 2020). Treatment is most effective when it addresses the physical, psychological, and social aspects through a coordinated, multidisciplinary team approach (National Eating Disorders Collaboration, 2011).
In summary, eating disorders are serious but treatable mental illnesses. With early identification and comprehensive treatment, people suffering from anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder can recover and reclaim healthy eating and body image. Future research should continue exploring causes to aid prevention and develop new, specialized treatments.
Agras, W. S., Walsh, B. T., Fairburn, C. G., Wilson, G. T., & Kraemer, H. C. (2000). A multicenter comparison of cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy for bulimia nervosa. Archives of general psychiatry, 57(5), 459-466.
Ata, R. N., Ludden, A. B., & Lally, M. M. (2007). The effects of gender and family, friend, and media influences on eating behaviors and body image during adolescence. Journal of youth and adolescence, 36(8), 1024-1037.
Brewerton, T. D. (2007). Eating disorders, trauma, and comorbidity: Focus on PTSD. Eating disorders, 15(4), 285-304.
Fairburn, C. G., Cooper, Z., & Shafran, R. (2015). Cognitive behaviour therapy for eating disorders: A “transdiagnostic” theory and treatment. Behaviour research and therapy, 74, 97-98.
Hilbert, A., Braehler, E., Schmidt, R., Löwe, B., Häuser, W., & Zenger, M. (2019). The link between personality factors and eating disorders: A population-based study. Journal of psychiatric research, 109, 1-6.
Kaye, W. H., Wierenga, C. E., Bailer, U. F., Simmons, A. N., & Bischoff-Grethe, A. (2020). Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels: From neurobiology to treatment in anorexia nervosa. Trends in neurosciences, 42(12), 896-907.
Klump, K. L. (2013). Puberty as a critical risk period for eating disorders: A review of human and animal studies. Hormones and behavior, 64(2), 399-410.
Lock, J., Le Grange, D., Agras, W. S., Moye, A., Bryson, S. W., & Jo, B. (2010). Randomized clinical trial comparing family-based treatment with adolescent-focused individual therapy for adolescents with anorexia nervosa. Archives of general psychiatry, 67(10), 1025-1032.
National Eating Disorders Association. (2022). What are eating disorders?
National Institute of Mental Health. (2022). Eating disorders.
National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2011). Eating disorders: The way forward. Commonwealth of Australia.
Smink, F. R., van Hoeken, D., & Hoek, H. W. (2012). Epidemiology of eating disorders: Incidence, prevalence and mortality rates. Current psychiatry reports, 14(4), 406-414.
Striegel-Moore, R. H., & Bulik, C. M. (2007). Risk factors for eating disorders. American psychologist, 62(3), 181.
Swanson, S. A., Crow, S. J., Le Grange, D., Swendsen, J., & Merikangas, K. R. (2011). Prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in adolescents: Results from the national comorbidity survey replication adolescent supplement. Archives of general psychiatry, 68(7), 714-723.

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