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Survey saysÖ3 out of 4 American Women Have Disordered Eating  

A recent study reported that 65% of American women have disordered eating. As reported at ScienceDaily (April 22, 2008), researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Self Magazine found that 65% of women between the ages of 25 and 45 have some type of disordered eating.  

Also, it was found that possibly as many as 10% of women reported symptoms consistent with eating disorders such bulimia nervosa, anorexia and binge eating disorder. This indicates that possibly as many as 75% of women in this survey may have identified having some type of unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food intake and their bodies. 


Cynthia R. Bulik, Ph.D., William and Jeanne Jordan Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry and director of the UNC Eating Disorders program said, "Our survey found that these behaviors cut across racial and ethnic lines and are not limited to any one group."  She also said that, "Women who identified their ethnic backgrounds as Hispanic or Latina, white, black or  African American and Asian, were all represented among the women who reported unhealthy eating behaviors."  She concluded that it was very surprising, the unexpectedly high number of women who engage in unhealthy activities such as purging.  Dr. Bulik, who is also a nutrition professor in the School of Public Health said "More than 31 percent of women in the survey reported that in an attempt to lose weight they had induced vomiting or had taken laxatives, diuretics or diet pills at some point in their lives.  Among these women, more than 50 percent engaged in purging activities at least a few times a week, and many did so every day." 

While many of the unhealthy eating behaviors uncovered in the survey didn't necessarily mean that women were eating in a way that would lead to potentially lethal consequences as when women are anorexic or bulimic, but they did reported that the dysfunctional eating behaviors probably were associated with emotional and physical distress.  While eating disorders are usually related to young women, this survey found that women in their 30ís and 40ís also reported disordered eating at virtually the same rates as younger women. Overall, the findings in the study indicated that: 

  • 75% of women report disordered eating behaviors or symptoms consistent with eating disorders; so three out of four had an unhealthy relationship with food or their bodies
  • 67% of women (excluding those with actual eating disorders) are trying to lose weight
  • 53% of dieters are already at a healthy weight and are still trying to lose weight
  • 39% of women say concerns about what they eat or weigh interfere with their  happiness
  • 37% regularly skip meals to try to lose weight
  • 27% would be "extremely upset" if they gained just 5 pounds
  • 26% cut out entire food groups
  • 16% have dieted on 1000 calories a day or fewer
  • 13% smoke to lose weight
  • 12% often eat when they're not hungry; 49% sometimes do

Some of the eating habits that women think are actually relatively healthy such as banishing carbohydrates, extreme dieting, and skipping meals may actually be indications of this disordered eating. 

The results of this study were derived from an online survey of 4,023 women who answered detailed questions about their eating habits. 

Bulik and study co-author Lauren Reba-Harrelson, a third year clinical psychology graduate student in UNCís College of Arts and Sciences, will give a presentation about the survey and their collaboration with Self on May 17 at the Academy for Eating Disordersí 2008 International Conference on Eating Disorders in Seattle.

Adapted from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2008, April 23). Three Out Of Four American Women Have Disordered Eating, Survey Suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2008, from≠ /releases/2008/04/080422202514.htm 

Additional Information and webpage by Paul Susic  MA Licensed Psychologist   Ph.D. Candidate  (Health and Geriatric Psychologist)

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