Prevalence of Binge Eating Disorder

College social anxiety

Binge eating disorder (BED) has only recently gained recognition as an official diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual, 5th Edition (DSM-V). According to the National Eating Disorder Association, BED is a severe, yet treatable eating disorder characterized by:

  • recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort)
  • a feeling of a loss of control during the binge
  • experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterward
  • the absence of unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. [1]

Approximately 2.8 million people in the United States suffer from BED, and is found among adults of a variety of racial and ethnic groups [2]:

  • White (1.4%)
  • Latino (2.1%)
  • Asian (1.2%)
  • African American (1.5%)

Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States and is more prevalent than anorexia and bulimia combined. [3] While twice as many females (1.6%) as men (0.8%) report having binge eating disorder still the ratio is more even than the ratios of bulimia in women (.5%) and men (.1%). For those diagnosed with BED, the median age of onset (age 21) occurs later in life than anorexia or bulimia (age 18). [2]

In light of the higher occurrence of BED, there is some disagreement among mental health professionals. Allen Frances, MD, former chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University and author of Essentials of Psychiatric Diagnosis cautions against the use of the BED diagnosis. Because many people struggle with binge eating, he worries “that this diagnosis will be overused in everyday clinical practice.” [3]

Woman looking at sunrise contemplating Binge eating disorderOthers strongly support the inclusion of BED in the DSM-V and point to how greater awareness will improve the lives of those who experience it. “Inclusion of BED as a full-fledged diagnosis will…help to correct the public misperception that eating disorders are either uncommon or even trivial by being restricted to a narrow segment of the population. Hopefully, the changes introduced by the DSM-5 will also open up the study of eating disorders to men and minorities.” [4]

BED often occurs with other psychiatric diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) reports that 65.1% of those with BED also have a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder; 46.4% have a mood disorder (such as depression); 43.3% have an impulse control disorder and 23.3% have a substance use disorder. [5]

Treatment is available for binge eating disorder and includes cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and Interpersonal Psycho-Therapy (IPT).


[1] National Eating Disorder Association. (2018, February 22). Binge Eating Disorder. Retrieved February 8, 2020, from

[2] Takeda. (n.d.). Binge eating disorder (B.E.D.) is the most common eating disorder among US adults. Retrieved February 8, 2020, from

[3] Frances, A. (2014). Essentials of psychiatric diagnosis: responding to the challenge of Dsm-5. London: Guilford Press.

[4] Garner, D. M., Desai, J., & Desmond, M. (n.d.). Binge Eating Disorder and the DSM-5: What the Changes Mean. Retrieved February 8, 2020, from

[5] National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Eating Disorders. Retrieved February 8, 2020, from

About the Author:

Travis Stewart Headshot PhotoTravis Stewart, LPC has been mentoring others since 1992 and became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 2005. His counseling approach is relational and creative, helping people understand their story while also building hope for the future. Travis has experience with a wide variety of issues which might lead people to seek out professional counseling help.

This includes a special interest in helping those with compulsive and addictive behaviors such as internet and screen addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, and perfectionism. Specifically, he has worked with eating disorders since 2003 and has learned from many of the field’s leading experts. He has worked with hundreds of individuals facing life-threatening eating disorders in all levels of treatment. His website is

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published February 12, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on February 12, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.