Women suffer five times more often from eating disorders than men

New study concerning eating disturbances: Women suffer five times more often from them than men - previously underestimated as a cause for adiposity

A representative study (1) shows that women are  five times more likely to develop disturbances in eating behavior than men. Presently, 5.9 percent of women 1.5 percent of men in Germany suffer from disturbances of their eating behavior. Among those are bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and anorexia nervosa. The study also shows that adipose women suffer 11 times more often and adipose men even 20 times more often from an eating disturbance than normalweight women and men.

"This significantly higher occurence of eating disturbances in adipose people is remarkable," explains head of the study Professor Anja Hilbert, who researches eating disorders at the Integrated Research and Treatment Center AdiposityDiseases in Leipzig. "From that we can conclude that overweight and adiposity develop in a stronger than previously assumed relation to eating disturbances and that they come alongside e.g. recurring binge eating episodes, nightly eating, chronic engorgement or a very negative body image." Since such disturbances of the eating habits are connected to an increased psychological strain, it also becomes apparent here that adiposity is not only a problem of engorgement and lack of exercise. It also has to be clarified whether the patient suffers from a clinical eating disorder and whether additional psychotherapeutic treatments are necessary apart from nutritional and physical therapy.

The study of Anja Hilbert, Martina de Zwaan and Elmar Brähler offers new findings about the frequency of eating disorders in different age group. "It is noticeable that disturbances affect women and men of every age group, while we also have to note that their frequency declines the older the people become," explains Professor Elmar Brähler, head of the department for mental health at the University Hospital Leipzig. Especially younger women and men between the ages of 55 and 64 exhibited a higher chance for a disturbance of the eating habits.

For this representative investigation of the German population among both sexes and all age groups the internationally well-proven "Eating Disorder Examination Questionaire" (EDE-Q) was employed for the first time. It determines the specific symptoms and psychopathologies such as a negative body and self image, dissatisfaction with the appearance, self-induced vomiting, binge eating episodes, misuse of laxatives, driven exersices or diets. The 2520 interviewees (1354 women, 1166 men) were between the ages of 14 and 95 (average 50,5 years old), the Body Mass Index was between 14,17 and 55,40 kg/m2. According to the self-reports of the interviewees 10,8 percent were adipose (BMI 30 kg/m2 and more), around 37 percent were overweight and around 52 percent normalweight. Similarly to previous studies no correalation between eating disorders and income or education level was shown.

Compared to previous epidemiological studies it was, however, noticeable that the symptoms and abnormalities indicating a disturbed eating behavior have increased in men during the last years. In women it was confirmed that young women before turning 24 are significantly more prone to eating disoders. In a european study young women had an eight times increased risk for an eating disorder compared to older women. (2; Preti et al., 2008).

1)  Hilbert A, de Zwaan M, Braehler E (2012) How Frequent Are Eating Disturbances in the Population? Norms of the Eating Disorder Examination-Questionnaire. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29125. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029125
2)  Preti A, Girolamo G, Vilagut G, Alonso J, Graaf R, Bruffaerts R, Demyttenaere K, Pinto-Meza A, Haro JM, Morosini P; ESEMeD-WMH Investigators (2009) The epidemiology of eating disorders in six European countries: results of the ESEMeD-WMH project. J Psychiatr Res. 2009 Sep; 43(14):1125-32. Epub 2009 May 8.

Keywords: IFB-research, causes of obesity, psyche, eating disorders