HealthONE - February 13, 2020

Almost 24 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. Only one in ten of those people, however, receive treatment. Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It is important to educate yourself and your family on the symptoms of eating disorders before an eating disorder becomes a serious problem.

The two most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anyone, male or female, can develop one or both of these illnesses. While most eating disorders affect girls and women, boys and men also suffer from the illness.

Anorexia nervosa primarily affects teenage girls between 13-18 years of age, and it is more common among higher income families and athletes. To be diagnosed with anorexia, a person would have a body mass index (BMI) of more than 15 percent below his/her average weight, as well as a very strong fear of being overweight or gaining weight and an inaccurate view of his/her body. It is common for women to miss at least three periods or not get their period at all.

People who have bulimia nervosa vary in weight. It is most common among college-aged women. To be diagnosed with bulimia, a person would binge eat without control and then purge the food by vomiting, fasting, exercising excessively or abusing diet products.

Eating disorder treatment

If you have a family member suffering from or showing signs of an eating disorder or disordered eating, know there are many treatment options available. Psychological counseling paired with attention to the patient's medical and nutritional needs is often the most successful treatment option. For a list of treatment options and resources, visit the National Eating Disorder Association website or contact the National Eating Disorder information referral helpline: 800-931-2237.


When a family member or loved one is diagnosed with an eating disorder, it affects the entire family. Below are resources designed for those with loved ones who suffer from an eating disorder:

For parents and family members: Parent Toolkit For friends: What Should I Say guide Source: National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders