Eating disorders are responsible for more loss of life than any other mental health condition, and unfortunately, are becoming increasingly more common. Over the last 30-40 years, the prevalence of eating disorders has increased to become a widespread problem across the UK and worldwide.

UK eating disorder statistics

Research suggests that:

  • Between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder
  • Around 25% of those affected by an eating disorder are male
  • Most eating disorders develop during adolescence, although there are cases of eating disorders developing in children as young as 6 and in adults in their 70’s
  • Eating disorder are most common in individuals between the ages of 16 and 40 years old
  • Around 10% of people affected by an eating disorder suffer from anorexia nervosa
  • The average age of onset for anorexia nervosa is 16-17 years old
  • 40% of people affected by an eating disorder suffer from bulimia nervosa
  • The average age of onset for bulimia nervosa is 18-19 years old
  • The rest of sufferers fall into the BED or OSFED categories of eating disorders
  • Research suggests that individuals who have family members with eating disorders are more likely to develop eating disorders themselves when compared to individuals who have no family history of these illnesses
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates among psychiatric disorders
  • Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder in adolescence
  • The earlier that eating disorder treatment is sought, the better the sufferer’s chance of recovery


These UK eating disorder statistics are derived from data published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), Beat, and Anorexia and Bulimia Care.



It is always hard to give precise prevalence figures because the figures known are for those seeking/receiving treatment and it is estimated by the Department of Health that the true figure for those affected is more like 4 million, as so many who struggle do not seek help and therefore do not enter the figures.

Over 1.6 million people in the UK are estimated to be directly affected by eating disorders. This is likely to be an underestimate as we know there is a huge level of unmet needs in the community. Good quality comprehensive services for people with eating disorders are not yet available in many parts of England.


Anorexia most commonly affects girls and women, although it has become more common in boys and men in recent years. On average, the condition first develops at around the age of 16 to 17.

Recent studies suggest that as many as 8% of women have had bulimia at some stage in their life. The condition can occur at any age, but mainly affects women between the ages of 16-40 (on average, it starts around the age of 18 or 19). Bulimia nervosa can affect children, but this is extremely rare. Reports estimate that up to 25% of Britons struggling with eating disorders may be male. 

In 2007 the NHS information centre stated that up to 6.4% of adults displayed signs of an eating disorder. This research also suggested that up to 25% of those showing signs of an eating disorder were male.

The age at which most boys were admitted to hospital for an eating disorder was 13 years in the 12 months to October 2013.

The increase in the number of people diagnosed with eating disorders was more pronounced in males with incidences rising by 27%. The number of people diagnosed with eating disorders has increased by 15% since 2000.

Figures for 2007 found that 1.9% of women and 0.2% of men experience anorexia in any year. Usually, the condition lasts for about 6 years. Between 0.5% and 1% of young women experience bulimia at any one time.

About 40% of people referred to eating disorder clinics are classified as ‘Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified’ with symptoms that don’t fit neatly into either the anorexia or bulimia classifications.

In 2013, the EDNOS category was removed and Binge Eating Disorder became a recognised disorder in a distinct category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5).


Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates among psychiatric disorders. 

Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder in adolescence.

Of those surviving, 50% recover, whereas 30% improve and 20% remain chronically ill.

Only 46.9% of AN patients were classified as ‘cured.’ Early intervention results in the best possible recovery outcome (NICE). Not providing children and young people with the resources to recover means that their illness may not be cured and that they go into adulthood with enduring Anorexia Nervosa.


In anorexia nervosa (AN), this excess mortality is explained in part by the physical complications and in part by an increased rate of suicide. Across studies, approximately 20 to 40% of deaths in AN are thought to result from suicide. The mean crude mortality rate was 5.0% (t1). In the surviving patients, on average, full recovery was found in only 46.9% of the patients, while 33.5% improved, and 20.8% developed a chronic course of the disorder. First, crude mortality rates were high and increased significantly with length of follow-up.

Even stronger evidence comes from a series of studies that calculated standard mortality rates. A review of the standard mortality rate in 10 cohort studies (134) found standard mortality rates between 1.36 and 17.80, indicating a slight to an almost 18-fold increase in mortality in patients with anorexia nervosa, with a maximal standard mortality rate of 30 for female patients in the first year after presentation and a statistically significant increase for up to 15 years after presentation. The data suggests that there are more deaths from suicide and other and unknown causes and fewer deaths related to the eating disorder than have been previously reported.


Most recent figures in January 2014 reveal that there was a national rise of 8% in the number of admissions to hospital for an eating disorder in the 12 months previous to October 2013.

Most of the 2,560 who went to hospital for inpatient treatment were very young – 15 was the most common age of admission for girls and 13 for boys. But children aged five to nine and the under-fives were also admitted.

In the 12 months to October 2013, hospitals dealt with 2,560 eating disorder admissions, 8 per cent more than in the previous 12 months (2,370 admissions).


Health care costs for eating disorders in England have been estimated as £80-100m with overall economic cost likely to be more than £1.26 bn per year.


[Now referred to as Non Suicidal Self Injury (NSSI)]

Eating disorders and NSSI fall along the continuum of self-harm, and up to 72 % of people with an ED also engaging in NSSI and up to 54 % of people who engage in NSSI report comorbid eating pathology. The likelihood of engaging in NSSI is greater among patients with purging-type EDs than those with non-purging-type EDs, suggesting an etiological link between purging and NSSI.