Very Few Teens Suffer Eating Disorders

Very few teens suffer eating disorders

March 8, 2011

Amid a barrage of media and interest-group reports claiming mammoth hordes of teenage and young adult women suffer from debilitating eating disorders characterizing their entire generation, a new study broadly defining these afflictions finds they’re actually quite rare. More than 97% of teens had never had an eating disorder at any time in their lives, and 94% had never shown even subclinical manifestations of an eating disorder, the study in the MarchArchives of General Psychiatry found.

Just 3% of 13-18 year-olds have ever suffered any kind of eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating (the last the most vaguely defined and therefore common disorder, with a lifetime prevalence of 1.6%, slightly higher than previous studies revealed). Another 3% had shown subclinical symptoms at least once in their lives. Teens who suffered eating disorders were not average kids but were heavily concentrated in populations who also displayed mental health and other troubles.

Both the researchers and press reports (i.e., “Eating disorders hit more than half million teens,” Associated Press, March 7) indulged the usual bad math and manufactured-crisis rhetoric that is standard whether 3% of 93% of teens display a particular problem. Certainly, disorders of any type deserve attention and treatment, but in context: there are 26 million teens age 13-18 in the United States, and–contrary to the hype–the vast majority are not starving, bingeing, or suffering food pathologies.