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03/12/2009 - General information

Eating Disorders are a Public Health Problem that Affect Young Women to a Greater Extent

The results of the study have just been published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research

As part of the European Study of the Epidemiology of Mental Disorders (ESEMeD) and the World Mental Health Survey Initiative (WMH project), researchers from the Municipal Institute for Medical Research (IMIM-Hospital del Mar) have participated in a study to establish the prevalence of the major eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Moreover, they sought to identify the existing correlation between eating disorders and other mental illnesses as well as how healthcare services are used by those affected.

A group of 4,139 individuals over 18 years of age, representative of the entire population, participated in the study. The work involved the use of a new version of the psychiatric interview CIDI (CIDI 3.0) which made it possible to assess the prevalence of frequent (non-psychotic) mental illnesses in six countries of the European Community, specifically in Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, Holland and Italy. The participating individuals were evaluated at their respective homes using computer-assisted survey techniques.

The results clearly show that the prevalence of eating disorders throughout life is 2.51% on average in the six European countries studied, being 3 to 8 times more frequent in women than in men. This ratio is the same for all the eating disorders studied, except in the people who are on the threshold of a binge eating disorder, for which there are no significant differences between the sexes. If broken down by countries, eating disorders in France, Belgium and Italy show a higher prevalence than in the other three participating countries.

The study shows that most eating disorders begin during childhood and adolescence, between 10 and 20 years of age. Likewise, binge eating disorder was confirmed as more frequent than anorexia or bulimia nervosa, the other two common forms of this kind of disorder. A significant relationship was also detected between this pathology and other mental disorders, particularly anxiety and mood disorders. This finding indicates the need to treat binge eating disorder as a different pathology, given its role in the development of obesity, a fact that requires an appropriate public health strategy.

Furthermore, the study made clear that only half of all people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia have seen a health professional for their emotional and mental health problems.

The authors point out that further studies must be done to establish whether an early diagnosis would favour access to specialised care and would lessen the burden those affected by these types of diseases must bear. Fortunately, the greater media coverage of eating disorder-related issues today has given visibility to this pathology and its symptoms, making the population more aware of the seriousness, especially among the youngest.

Reference article: "The epidemiology of eating disorders in six European countries: Results of the ESEMED-WMH project". Journal of Psychiatric Research

About the ESEMED project

The European Study of the Epidemiology of Mental Disorders (ESEMeD) is the first large-scale study that has gathered information Europe-wide on the prevalence, risk factors, disability and use of healthcare services associated with mood disorders, anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse related disorders. The results were obtained from a population sample made up of 21, 425 non-institutionalized adults representing a total population of more than 212 million individuals from Germany, Belgium, Spain, Holland and Italy. The ESEMeD results provide an epidemiological basis for reforming mental health policies in Europe.

About the World Mental Health Survey Initiative (WHM project)

The EU-WHM project systematically analyses the burden of mental illnesses based on information obtained in population-based studies conducted in 10 European countries and 2 neighbouring countries, from a gender perspective so as to analyse inequalities. The aim is to be a useful resource in evaluating public mental health in Europe.

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