3% of Americans Are Binge Eating
Survey Shows Uncontrollable Binge Eating Is the Most Common Eating Disorder
WebMD News Archive
Feb. 1, 2007 -- Binge eating disrupts the lives of 3.5% of U.S. women and 2%
of U.S. men for an average of eight years, a new survey shows.
That makes binge eating more widespread than the other two eating disorders,
anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Anorexia affects nearly 1% of women and 0.3% of men, the study finds;
bulimia affects 1.5% of women and 0.5% of men.
Yet binge eating disorder isn't currently an official psychiatric
The new finding is likely to change that, say researchers James I. Hudson,
MD, ScD; Harrison Pope Jr., MD; and colleagues at Harvard University and McLean
"These data suggest that binge eating disorder is common -- more common
than the other two eating disorders combined. It is associated with obesity,
and it is persistent," Hudson said in a news conference held to announce
For the study, Hudson and colleagues asked detailed questions about eating
in face-to-face interviews from 2001 to 2003, with a nationally representative
sample of about 3,000 U.S. adults.
They report their findings in the Feb. 1 issue of Biological
Binge Eating Disorder Hallmarks: Distress, Loss of Control
No, you don't have binge eating disorder if you mindlessly down a dozen hot
wings, a burger, and a big bag of chips during the Super Bowl. That is
unhealthy overeating, not an eating disorder.
In binge eating, at least twice a week, at times they don't choose -- and
despite feelings of distress and disgust -- binge eaters uncontrollably gorge
themselves on massive quantities of food.
Pope says after interviewing hundreds of people with binge eating disorder
that he heard the same kind of story over and over again.
"Once they start, they go over the cliff. Even though they feel guilty
and disgusted, they can't shut it off," Pope said at the news
"The typical patient tells me, 'I have a normal dinner, and then at 9
o'clock at night I think, well, I'll go down to the kitchen and eat just a
handful of potato chips or a scoop of ice cream. But I just can't stop. I eat
all this sweet stuff, then I want something salty, and before I know it, I have
finished everything in the kitchen,'" Pope recounts.
Strong Urge to Gorge
Food beckons like an irresistible neon sign to a person with binge eating
disorder, says Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, director of the eating disorders program
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Bulik was not involved in
the survey but participated in the news conference.
"A lot of these people will say they are unable to inhibit the urge once
the thought of eating comes into their minds," Bulik said.
"They say that food will beckon to them like neon signs. They are unable
to inhibit the urge to eat once that neon sign goes on. And there is this sense
of distress that occurs when the binge eating occurs," Bulik said.