The number of people diagnosed with eating disorders has increased by 15% since 2000, according to a new study led by the UCL Institute of Child Health (ICH). The increase was more pronounced in males with incidences rising 27%.
The research which looked at incidence of eating disorders in primary care in the UK over a ten-year period (2000-2009) found that the largest increase was in eating disorders which meet most, but not, all of the criteria associated with anorexia or bulimia.
The study showed a 60% increase in females with these types of eating disorders, known as Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), and a 24 per cent increase in males. Rates of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa remained stable.
Dr Nadia Micali, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at the UCL Institute for Child Health and lead author, said: “There is a clear increase in men and women being diagnosed with eating disorders. Mostly we see new diagnoses of the EDNOS category, reflecting people who have an illness as severe as anorexia or bulimia, but who don’t have symptoms as frequently as the official threshold. For example they may use strategies for weight loss-such as fasting or self-induced vomiting less than twice a week.
“It should be stressed these people, who are understudied, are extremely ill. In fact changes in the classification criteria being unveiled this week in the US mean that what we are currently calling EDNOS will now be diagnosed as full cases of anorexia or bulimia.
“What is unclear at this stage is whether the reported increase is down to a true increase in people becoming ill with an eating disorder or better recognition of these disorders among GPs.”
The researchers analysed information from 400 general practices representing approximately 5% of the general UK population, and identified 9,072 patients with a first-time diagnosis of an eating disorder. It revealed that in 2000 there were 32.3 new cases of eating disorder per 100,000 population aged between 10-49 years, which rose to 37.2 cases by 2009.
Incidences of eating disorders were seen to vary by sex and age with adolescent girls aged 15-19 years having the highest incidence of eating disorders (2 per 1,000).
Dr Micali added: “Our findings highlight that about 4,610 girls aged 15-19 and 336 boys aged 15-19 develop a new eating disorder in the UK every year.”
There was a much higher overall rate of eating disorders among females of 62.6 per 100,000 in 2009 compared with a male rate of 7.1 per 100,000. The peak age of diagnosis for girls with all eating disorders was 15-19 years. However, the peak age for diagnosis for males varied depending on the type of eating disorder: 15-19 years for anorexia; 20-29 years for bulimia; and 10-14 for EDNOS.
Professor Janet Treasure, co-author of the study from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, said: “Whilst the levels of anorexia nervosa have remained steady over the past decade, we have seen an increase in binge eating disorder and other conditions that do not meet the standard criteria for anorexia or bulimia. Our findings have important implications for public health, healthcare provision and understanding the development of eating disorders.”