Binge Eating ‘More Prevalent’ than Anorexia, Bulimia in US

Binge eating is the most widespread eating disorder in the United States, surpassing bulimia and anorexia, and should be considered a “major public health burden,” a study says.

A national survey about the mental health of more than 9,000 people conducted over two years found that 3.5 percent of women and two percent of men admitted having had frequent uncontrolled eating binges at one point in their lives, the study said.

Comparatively, 0.9 percent of women and 0.3 of men reported having anorexia nervosa at some point in their lives and 1.5 percent of women and 0.5 of men had suffered from bulimia nervosa, said the study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

The study, conducted by researchers at Harvard University-affiliated McLean Hospital, called binge eating a “major public health burden” because it was directly linked to severe obesity and other serious health problems.

While bulimics purposely vomit or take laxatives after overeating, binge eaters do not purge. Anorexics lose weight through extreme diets.

“Everybody knows about anorexia and bulimia. However, binge eating disorder affects more people, is often associated with severe obesity and tends to persist longer,” said study lead author James Hudson.

“The consequences of binge eating disorder can be serious – including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

“It is imperative that health experts take notice of these findings,” said Hudson, director of the Psychiatric Epidemiology Research Program at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

The findings give more scientific support for adding binge eating as an official psychiatric diagnosis in the next edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the researchers said.

The average lifetime duration of binge eating was 8.1 years, compared to 8.3 years for bulimia and 1.7 years for anorexia, the survey found.

“Contrary to what people may believe, anorexia is not necessarily a chronic illness; in many cases, it runs its course and people get better without seeking treatment,” Hudson said.

“So our survey suggests that for every one severe case (of anorexia), there may be many other milder cases,” he said.

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