In literature, anecdotes, and general examples of eating disorders, there is usually a stereotype that keeps appearing: a female, cisgender teenager who is Caucasian and is in distress because she is quickly losing a lot of weight from an eating disorder like anorexia.
This stereotype does cover one demographic of the population who has eating disorders. However, it leaves out a large part of the population that does not fit one, if not all, of these characteristics.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Because of this, we believe it is important to restate how this problem can affect anyone, not just one part of the population. Read on to discover facts about how different groups are affected by eating disorders.
While it is typical to use those who are Caucasian as an example when talking about eating disorders, it is more accurate to use all ethnicities.
For instance, black teens are 50% more likely than their white counterparts to exhibit binging and purging behavior. Those who are Latinx are also more likely to have bulimic behavior as well, showing that most minorities experience these problems as much, if not more, than white people.
While this may be the case, racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to have a doctor ask them about symptoms. This could be because of the stereotype regarding those who “usually” have eating disorders.
Even though women are usually “the gender” depicted as having eating disorders, men and boys have a risk of developing them as well. One example is that males under the age of 18 are more likely to develop ARFID vs. females.
Overall, it is estimated that around 40% of those with binge eating disorder are male, and nearly 30% of teenage boys use unhealthy behaviors like skipping meals and vomiting to control weight.
In many cases, males don’t even know they have an eating disorder, or experience shame around identifying it as such, which impacts their ability to access treatment.
The stereotype that only women experience eating disorders can also prevent this group from receiving treatment. Like non-white ethnicities, doctors can overlook symptoms, even though it is estimated that over 10 million men have experienced a type of eating disorder during their lifetime. This equates to one-third of those with eating disorders.
The last hurdle for those identifying as male is that in general, most eating disorder treatment centers only accept women, but luckily, more centers are starting to accept the male population as the need becomes more prevalent.
The National Eating Disorder Association has found that individuals who are transgender experience eating disorders at a higher rate than those who are not. Additionally, studies have found that LGBTQ+ youth can experience disorders as young as age 12, in comparison to late teens or early 20s for cisgender people.
Gay men especially can be underrepresented. They make up 42% of males that experience an eating disorder. In one study, this part of the population was 12 times more likely to say they purged vs. their heterosexual counterparts.
One positive aspect that researchers found was that the connectivity that members of the LGBTQ+ community experience does help those with eating disorders.
Adults Over 50
While teenagers and young adults do make up the majority that develops an eating disorder, it has been found that 13% of women over 50 also experience these behaviors.
This particular minority group can go years and years without doctors finding their eating disorder. They also experience hopelessness more and often need to “wake up” to the situation in order to start the path to recovery.
Minority Mental Health Month
This month, make a point to reflect on the fact that all people, including the minority population, can be affected by eating disorders, no matter their ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, or age. Even if a friend or family member isn’t the stereotype, it is important to recognize the signs of different types of eating disorders so you can help them.