Eating disorders are a set of widespread and life threatening conditions. According to a new study published in Biological Psychiatry based on the largest national sample of U.S. adults of 36,309 people, around “0.8 percent of adults will be affected by anorexia nervosa in their lifetime; 0.28 percent will be affected by bulimia nervosa; and 0.85 percent will be affected by binge eating disorder” (Udo & Grilo, 2018). Furthermore, eating disorders affect people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group and could have severe consequences on a person’s emotional and physical health (“Risk Factors”, 2018).
Eating disorders affect every organ system in a person’s body, including the brain. Because of this there are many health consequences associated with having an eating disorder. By consuming fewer calories, the body starts to break down muscle and tissue for fuel. Due to this, the heart has fewer cells and less fuel to pump blood with and pulse and blood pressure begin to drop and the risk of heart failure increases (“Health Consequences”, 2018). In the case of orally purging the body of food, the body is losing electrolytes which “can lead to irregular heartbeats and possible heart failure and death” (“Health Consequences”, 2018). Not only does purging cause electrolyte imbalances in the body, it has severe consequences on the gastrointestinal system. Purging can lead to a deteriorated esophagus and stomach problems such as blocked intestines from undigested food, bacterial infections, constipation, intestinal perforation and in severe cases stomach ruptures (“Health Consequences”, 2018). In addition, purging and malnutrition can cause of pancreatitis or an inflammation of the pancreas (“Health Consequences”, 2018).
Neurologically, due to the restriction of calories in the body, the brain will not receive enough nutrients to function and could lead to a toxic cycle of obsessing about food and difficulties concentrating (“Health Consequences”, 2018). Furthermore, not eating enough can create difficulties falling or staying asleep, numbness and tingling in the extremities of the body due to damage to the neuronal insulations, seizures and muscle cramps due to electrolyte imbalance, and fainting or dizziness (“Health Consequences”, 2018). Even more alarming, in the endocrine system sex hormones decrease and can increase bone loss and starvation can cause high cholesterol levels (“Health Consequences”, 2018).
However, the consequences of eating disorders are not merely confined to the physical body. There are many cognitive and emotional effects associated with restrained eating. People suffering from eating disorders have their cognitive performance and function disrupted by thoughts of food and/or weight (Polivy, 1996). People with a history of dieting were also found to have more difficulty concentrating than their peers and experience feelings of irritability and negative emotionality and heightened affective responsiveness (Polivy, 1996). Self-harm, suicide attempts and death constitutes as some of the highly associated risks with eating disorders (Keski-Rahkonen & Mustelin, 2016) .
In fact, according the the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. One in five people with anorexia die by suicide (“Eating Disorder Statistics”, n.d.). This statistic does not include those that die due to pure self-starvation. The Standard Mortality Ratio, how likely one is to die over the study period compared to same aged peers of the general population, is 5.86 times more likely for people suffering from anorexia nervosa and 1.93 times more likely for people suffering from bulimia nervosa (“Eating Disorder Statistics”, n.d.).
As eating disorders are complex in nature, the risk factors of eating disorders involves an interaction between a range of biological, psychological and sociocultural factors (“Risk Factors”, 2018). Eating disorders are extremely prevalent and consequential and with more information, education, and funding for research there can be more support for those fighters and survivors of eating disorders.
Eating Disorder Statistics • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
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Keski-Rahkonen, A. & Mustelin, L. (2016). Epidemiology of eating disorders in Europe. Current
Opinion in Psychiatry, 29(6), 340–345. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000278.
Polivy, J. (1996). Psychological Consequences of Food Restriction. Journal of the American
Dietetic Association,96(6), 589-592. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-8223(96)00161-7
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Udo, T., & Grilo, C. M. (2018). Prevalence and Correlates of DSM-5–Defined Eating Disorders
in a Nationally Representative Sample of U.S. Adults. Biological Psychiatry,84(5),