Public policy efforts for prevention of and intervention upon eating disorders is severely limited in the United States due to the paucity of population-based data. This review article summarizes findings regarding eating disorders based on the National Epidemiological Studies on Alcohol and Related Conditions, Third Wave. The studies reviewed provide the most recent epidemiological indicators of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder (BED) in the United States and demonstrate the utility of population-based data for validating the generalizability of findings from clinical samples.
Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and BED are widely distributed across sociodemographic characteristics, with substantially elevated risks for a variety of serious psychiatric, medical, and functional impairments, including heighted suicidality over the lifespan. Sexual minorities and individuals with adverse childhood experiences may be particularly vulnerable. Yet, many adults with eating disorders do not seek help, particularly professional help. National Epidemiological Studies on Alcohol and Related Conditions, Third Wave studies also validated some important clinical observations (e.g., overvaluation of shape/weight and physical inactivity in BED, more severe anorexia nervosa with onset prior to 14 years old).
More rigorous population-based studies are needed to further advocate for appropriate resources and policies for eating disorders in the United States.