Eating disorders affect 24 million Americans. They are serious mental health disorders and are considered to be the deadliest of all mental illnesses. Just how dangerous eating disorders really are has been the subject of a couple of recent studies in the United Kingdom.
The first study, headed up by Dr. Jon Arcelus of the University of Leicester, was an in-depth analysis performed on findings from 36 separate studies conducted between 1966 and 2010. That analysis yielded some disturbing figures, especially when considering patients who suffer with anorexia nervosa.
According to Arcelus, anorexia is deadly more often than other mental health disorders and even than any other eating disorder. Analysis showed anorexia to be four times more deadly than clinical depression, three times deadlier than bipolar disorder and two times more deadly than schizophrenia. Bulimia, an eating disorder in which a person gorges on food and then purges themselves through self-induced vomiting or excessive use of laxatives, creates a 1.93 fold increase in death risk compared to healthy individuals. Eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS) lead to a 1.92 fold increase in death risk.
Anorexia puts a person at a six-fold increase for death compared to healthy persons. That means that anorexia is roughly three times more deadly than other eating disorders. Just how great the person’s risk for death is when they suffer with anorexia appears to be influenced by age.
The person who develops anorexia before he/she turns 15 years old runs a three times higher risk for death compared to a healthy youngster but that figure jumps to a 10-fold risk between the ages of 15 and 19 years. By the time a person is in their 20s, their death rate shoots up to 18-fold before dropping back down to a six-fold risk after age 30.
People with anorexia most often die from one of two causes. Either their body shuts down or the person commits suicide. Anorexia is similar to starvation in that it deprives the body of nutrients over a long period of time. The extensive malnutrition starves organs until they eventually fail. One in five deaths blamed on anorexia is the result of suicide.
A second British study, this one performed at Loughborough University, examined 1,000 patients with a diagnosed eating disorder. Again, those with anorexia were seen to experience the highest death rates among patients with disordered eating. This study found that men represent 10 to 15 percent of all eating disorder patients and that most patients began to experience symptoms around the age of 15.
Those around the person suffering with an eating disorder may not initially realize just how dangerous this condition is. In addition, eating disorders are usually co-morbid with other mental health disorders, though there is not enough evidence to say exactly which illnesses are most likely. What is important to know is that eating disorders take deep root and are difficult to treat if left undiagnosed. In fact, not catching them soon enough can mean the difference between life and death.