How Many People Have Bulimia?
It is difficult to say how many people have bulimia, as researchers are not in agreement. Statistics may not truly reflect the total numbers because, as we previously stated, bulimics generally hide their behavior. In fact, one study showed that college students answered questionnaires more truthfully only when told to put a dab of their saliva on the survey paper, because they believed their sample could be chemically analyzed to determine if they were bulimic! Also, conflicting criteria for bulimia may have been used in various studies.
Of the research done on the prevalence of eating disorders, one reliable review of many studies showed that 1.0 to 1.8% of college women meet the strict clinical criteria for bulimia, and 2.6 to 3.3% have subclinical levels (Crowther, 2008). Another well-respected survey found that 1.5% of adult females and 0.5% of adult males had a lifetime prevalence of bulimia (Hudson, 2007). However, some studies offer much higher numbers. For example, one study of female high school and college students reported that 15% met the criteria for bulimia (Cavanaugh, 1999), although these figures seem abnormally high. There was a notable, temporary increase in prevalence in the early ’80s (Russell, 1997), when the public first became aware of bulimia, otherwise rates among women have remained fairly constant since that time.
Historically, men were determined to account for about 10% of cases, but in recent years this number has substantially increased to one male for every three females. Whatever the actual figures, it is undeniable that a substantial number of both women and men are engaging in this self-destructive behavior.
Reprinted with permission from Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery
By Lindsey Hall and Leigh Cohn
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