Are eating disorders more common in men or in women?

Eating disorders are more common in women than in men. Women are 10 times more likely to have an eating disorder than men.
Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics

More women than men seek treatment for an eating disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health states 5 – 15 percent of people diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia are male. However, of the people diagnosed with binge eating disorder, 35 percent are male. But does this really mean that eating disorders are more common in women? Nobody knows for sure. But there are a few reasons why eating disorders are considered to me more common in women.

First, in the diagnostic manual (DSM), the criteria for anorexia is gender biased so that it is relatively certain that more women than men will carry this diagnosis. The DSM specifically references the absence or delay of a menstrual cycle as one of the criteria for the diagnosis of anorexia. This may therefore decrease the likelihood that a male will meet the criteria for a diagnosis. Similarly, the criteria for bulimia nervosa speak of compensatory behaviors such as laxative usage, diuretics, and enemas that are generally marketed more directly towards women. The diagnostic criteria do not include the abuse of muscle building agents, thermogenics, or other agents typically used by men obsessed with body size and shape.

Second, Social factors in that the image of a person with an eating disorder in our common culture is most portrayed by thin young woman with anorexia. For men with anorexia, this likely increases both the shame and stigma associated with the disease and makes them less likely to present for treatment. This stereotype also affects patients with bulimia, which is more commonly diagnosed than anorexia. Because of this misconception, individuals with bulimia may feel their eating disorder is invisible, and may therefore be less likely to present for treatment.

Third is culture acceptance of body size and shape. Men have a multitude of “acceptable” body types in our culture. This ideal ranges from hyper-thin male models, to lean celebrity hard-bodies, to buff hyper-muscular physique. In general, women must adhere only to the thin female ideal. Therefore the social support for eating disorders in women may be significantly higher than for men. 

We do not have a definite answer as to why more women than men present for treatment. What we do know is that this issue requires much more research. Figuring out why so many more women present for treatment than men may help us understand how eating disorders are triggered and thus how to prevent them.

Eating disorders are more common in women than men. However, men account for approximately five to 15 percent of people with anorexia and bulimia. The percentage of men who have binge eating disorder is even higher - as many as 35 percent of all cases are in men or boys.

Continue Learning about Eating Disorders Causes & Risk Factors

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.