Binge Eating Disorder: New Information about Risks

Depression and gender were highlighted in recent studies.

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
May/June 2012 Volume 23, Number 3
©2012 Gürze Books

Binge eating disorder (BED) currently affects about 3% of the US population. Several recent studies have added some new information about this elusive disorder that affects men and women equally.

Depression and BED in teen girls

Depressed adolescent girls are twice as likely to begin binge eating as are girls who are not depressed. In addition, adolescent girls who regularly binge-eat are twice as likely to develop symptoms of depression. These were two findings recently reported by Alison Field, ScD and her colleagues at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health (J Adoles Health 2012;50:478. Epub 2011 Dec 12).

The authors surveyed nearly 5,000 girls between 12 and 18 who filled out questionnaires in 1999 and who were then resurveyed in 2001 and 2003. The Growing Up Today Study was established in 1996 to identify ways to predict dietary intake, activity, and weight gain among adolescent girls during a 4-year period. In the initial survey, teens and young women who claimed they usually or always felt “depressed” or “down in the dumps” were approximately two times as likely as other girls to begin overeating or binge eating during the next 2 years.

Binge eating among men and women

While AN and BN are more frequently reported among women than among men, binge eating disorder is common among men and women. Drs. Ruth Striegel-Moore and Walter Kaye and colleagues sought to see if symptoms are different among men and women with BED (Int J Eat Disord 2011;–add). Among the nearly 45,000 individuals who participated in a health risk self-assessment screening, 7.5% of men and 11.2% of women had experienced at least one binge during the past 30 days.

The authors were surprised to find few differences between the men and women who reported binge eating. Men and women who reported binge eating were significantly younger than those who did not report binge eating. Both men and women who reported binge eating were more likely to also have depression, stress, reduced productivity at work, and general overall impairment. Binge eating among the men was related to considerable functional impairment, which was an important finding because men are generally less likely than women to seek help for their binge eating behavior. In addition, general health service providers are less likely to suspect or to detect disordered eating among men, according to the authors.

The authors concluded that the prevalence of binge eating is greater among men than  previously believed. Because binge eating is associated with significantly more distress, depression, and obesity, more research is needed. The authors stressed the importance of not underestimating the effects of binge eating, particularly among males. Dr. Striegel-Moore and colleagues also recently reported results of a study that underlined the economic cost of BED. After adjusting for demographics, obesity, and other risks, binge eating was significantly correlated with impairment of productivity. For one company with 1000 employees, the estimated annual productivity loss due to binge eating was $107,965 (J Occup Environ Med; 2012 Mar 24; E pub ahead of print]).

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