How Dangerous Are Eating Disorders?
Updated: Mar 14
Eating disorders are the most life-threatening mental health disorder. In fact, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. By highlighting the latest research on the field, White Pine Center for Healing hopes to encourage those with an eating disorder to find help. We’ll discuss the populations that are at high risk of developing an eating disorder, the many dangers of eating disorders, and a few resources for getting help.
Who is Most Impacted by Eating Disorders?
People of all ages, genders, economic statuses, ethnicities, races, and sexual orientations can be impacted by eating disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders affect 1.2 percent of the entire population of the United States.
However, there are certain demographics who are more at risk than others for developing an eating disorder. For instance, the most common age of onset is between 12-25.
The prevalence of eating disorders is between two and five times as high among females as males. However, studies suggest males who have eating disorders actually have a higher risk of dying because of the stigma that only women are affected, making men less likely to seek help. While the research is limited, a study in The Journal of Adolescent Health found that transgender individuals experience eating disorders at significantly higher rates than cisgender individuals.
While studies from the 1960s and 70s found that higher socioeconomic status (SES) was associated with eating disorders, more recent research has found this to be untrue. In fact, there is no pattern of evidence to demonstrate a relationship between higher SES and eating disorders.
However, research shows that people in the LGBTQ+ community are far more likely to develop an eating disorder than their straight counterparts. For instance, 15 percent of gay & bisexual men reported having had a full or sub-threshold eating disorder at some point in their life, versus 4.6 percent of straight males.
There is also a multitude of risk factors, such as genetics, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions. Ultimately, eating disorders can impact anyone, and their onset is typically the convergence of multiple factors.
The Dangers of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are serious medical conditions that can have significant mental and physical implications.
With anorexia specifically, the mortality rate is a heartbreaking 10 percent. And, among those who struggle with anorexia, one in five deaths is by suicide. For people between the ages of 15 and 24, the development of anorexia increases their risk of death by tenfold.
Eating disorders can also cause a multitude of complications that impact a person's quality of life and lead them to life-threatening health conditions, such as:
Serious health problems: Heart failure, kidney failure, osteoporosis, etc.
Mood disorders: Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc.
Growth and development issues: hormone disruption, reduced bone mass, stunted growth, etc.
Social and relationship problems: volatile communication, lack of sexual intimacy, isolation
Work and school issues: weakened reward circuitry, shrinking of gray and white brain matter, difficulty task switching.
Each eating disorder also has its own set of life-threatening symptoms that must be noted:
Binge Eating Disorder
Recovery is Real
If you have an eating disorder or have a loved one who does, know that recovery is possible. Currently, the most successful evidence-based therapies for treating eating disorders include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy
These therapies aim to address the underlying causes of a person’s eating disorder. Oftentimes, eating disorders evolve out of bullying and weight shaming, co-occurring disorders, obsessions with dieting, substance abuse, and trauma/PTSD.
Helpful Resources and Getting Help
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD): ANAD has a helpline that offers treatment referrals, provides support, and answers general questions about eating disorders.
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA): NEDA provides resources, support, and treatment options for yourself and loved ones struggling with an eating disorder.
White Pine Center for Healing: White Pine Center supports individuals in the Tri-State area (Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York) who are experiencing or recovering from eating disorders through education and prevention, support groups, and outpatient programs.
Eating disorders can lead to various life-threatening health conditions. If you suspect that you may have an eating disorder, please visit our contact page or call us at (814) 461-5617.
Please Note: The content on White Pine Center for Healing is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you’re experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.