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Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family
Eating Disorders
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Five to ten million American woman suffer from eating disorders.

In the United States, conservative estimates indicate that after puberty, 5-10 million girls and women and 1 million boys and men are struggling with eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or borderline conditions.
(Crowther et al., 1992; Fairburn et al., 1993; Gordon, 1990; Hoek, 1995; Shisslak et al., 1995)

The Prevalence of Eating Disorders:
Because of the secrecy and shame associated with eating disorders, many cases are probably not reported. In addition, many individuals struggle with body dissatisfaction and sub-clinical disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. For example, 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance (Smolak, 1996).

The Drive for Thinness:

  • 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991).
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991).
  • The average American woman is 5'4" tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5'11" tall and weighs 117 pounds. Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women (Smolak, 1996).

A national survey of 11,467 high-school students and 60,861 adults revealed the following gender differences (Serdula et al., 1993):

  • Among the adults, 38% of the women and 24% of the men were trying to lose weight.
  • Among high-school students, 44% of the females and 15% of the males were attempting to lose weight.
  • 51% of 9 and 10 year-old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet (Mellin et al., 1991).
  • 46% of 9-11 year-olds are "sometimes" or "very often" on diets, and 82% of their families are "sometimes" or "very often" on diets (Gustafson-Larson & Terry, 1992).
  • 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22% dieted "often" or "always" (Kurth et al., 1995).
  • 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years (Grodstein, 1996).
  • 35% of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders (Shisslak & Crago, 1995).
  • 25% of American men and 45% of American women are on a diet on any given day (Smolak, 1996).
  • Americans spend over $40 billion on dieting and diet-related products each year (Smolak, 1996).

Anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder are diseases that affect the mind and body simultaneously. National Institute of Mental Health. (1994). Eating disorders. NIH Publication No. 94-3477. Rockville, MD.

Three percent of adolescent and adult women and 1% of men have anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. (1994). Eating disorders. NIH Publication No. 94-3477. Rockville, MD.

A young woman with anorexia is 12 times more likely to die than other women her age without anorexia. Sullivan, P.F. (1995). Mortality in Anorexia Nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 152(7), 1073-1074.

Fifteen percent of young women have substantially disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. Mintz, L.B., & Betz, N.E. (1988). Prevalence and correlates of eating disordered behaviors among undergraduate women. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 35(4), 463-471. Between 10% and 15% of those diagnosed with bulimia are men. Males with eating disorders: Challenges for treatment and research Andersen, A.E., & Holman, J.E. (1997). Males with eating disorders: Challenges for treatment and research. Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 33(3), 391-397.

Forty percent of fourth graders report that they diet either "very often" or "sometimes." Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children Gustafson-Larson, A., & Terry, R.D. (1992). Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 92, 818-822.

About half of those with anorexia or bulimia have a full recovery, 30% have a partial recovery, and 20% have no substantial improvement. Long-term outcome of bulimia nervosa Keel, P.K., Mitchell, J.E., Miller, K.B., Davis, T.L., & Crow, S.J. (1999). Long-term outcome of bulimia nervosa. Archives of General Psychiatry, 56(1), 63-69.

Ten to 22 percent of persons diagnosed with an eating disorder die as a result. The Eating Disorders Institute at Methodist Hospital in Minneapolis Fact sheet

Two to five percent of persons diagnosed with eating disorders commit suicide. The Eating Disorders Institute at Methodist Hospital in Minneapolis. Fact sheet.

The two most common times reported for eating disorder onset is puberty, and late teen or early adult years. NEDA

Seventy-seven percent of people diagnosed with eating disorders report a duration of 1-15 years.

Treatment for eating disorders is extremely expensive; it can cost $30,000 or more per month for inpatient treatment and $100,000 or more per year for outpatient treatment. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Fact sheet.

Most experts in the field believe that managed care fails to provide adequate funding for eating disorders. "Anorexics Sentenced To Death"; Glamour Magazine, (Aug, 1999.)

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