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An eating disorder is a complex illness that often is related to other risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder are common examples of this type of disorder. Other health issues, such as heart disease or kidney failure, often accompany them; therefore, it is crucial to recognize them as serious illnesses and treat them properly.

What Is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is a complex, chronic illness that is largely misunderstood and misdiagnosed. The most common eating disorders -- anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder -- are on the rise in the United States and worldwide.
No one knows exactly what causes an eating disorder. However, all socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural groups are at risk.
Eating disorders are one of the key health issues facing young women. Studies in the last decade show that eating disorders are often related to other health risks, including tobacco use, alcohol use, marijuana use, delinquency, unprotected sexual activity, and suicide attempts.
An eating disorder has numerous physical, psychological, and social ramifications -- these stem from significant preoccupation with weight, inappropriate eating behavior, and a distorted view of one's body image.
Currently, 1 percent to 4 percent of all young women in the United States are affected by eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa, for example, ranks as the third most common chronic illness among adolescent females in the United States.
More than 90 percent of those with eating disorders are women. Furthermore, the number of American women affected by eating disorders has doubled to at least three million in the past three decades.
Females are much more likely than males to develop an eating disorder. Only an estimated 5 percent to 15 percent of people with anorexia or bulimia, and an estimated 35 percent of those with binge-eating disorder, are male.
(Click Eating Disorder Statistics for more information.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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