Eating Disorders in South America

Woman in South America

Contributor: Courtney Howard, B.A., Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope.

Though eating disorders are common throughout South America, they often fly under the radar in regions where eating disorder awareness and advocacy efforts are minimal.

This contributes to the general stigma facing the eating disorder community and can keep people from seeking or having access to the help that they need.

Parts of South America, particularly those that are closely tied to the global fashion industry, are currently seeing a rise in eating disorders.

Overview & Statistics

South America is a large region that includes 12 countries, so factors contributing to the rates of eating disorders throughout the continent can vary greatly.

According to a recent publication [1] by the Inter-American Development Bank, the city of Medellin, Colombia, holds the highest rate of eating disorders in the world. Almost 18 percent of adolescent girls in Medellin struggle with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and other eating disorders.

Dr. Lucrecia Ramirez-Restrepo recognized these high rates of eating disorders throughout Medellin and launched Project Skinny, an initiative to promote body positivity. Through Project Skinny, billboards were put up throughout Medellin and surrounding locations with photoshopped images of unusually skinny wild animals to show how unnatural it is to try to be thinner than your given body type.

A 2013 meta-analysis [2] reports that 0.4 percent of surveyed individuals in Colombia struggled with bulimia nervosa in their lifetime, while 0.9 percent had binge eating disorder (BED). Approximately 2 percent of Brazilians surveyed had bulimia nervosa and 4.7 percent had BED.

These findings suggest that eating disorders are more common in Brazil than other parts of South America. One contributing factor could be the pervasiveness of the fashion industry throughout Brazil. Further studies need to be conducted relating to other contributing factors, including those that are environmental and social.

Eating Disorders in the Fashion Industry

The fasWoman in South Americahion industry has long been connected to the eating disorder community. Many models from across the world have lost their lives to eating disorders, primarily anorexia nervosa.

Ana Carolina Reston, a 21-year-old international model based out of Brazil, died in 2006 of complications from anorexia nervosa. Her death made international news and led to stricter regulations regarding body mass index and weight within the modeling industry.

This led to greater eating disorder awareness throughout all of South America, but primarily Brazil. As a beloved icon, Reston’s death brought a face to a highly stigmatized mental health disorder that is often swept under the rug.

The nature of modeling and the fashion industry, including long hours, constant comparison to others, harmful body standards, and often lack of support from agencies, can trigger disordered eating. In the United States, activist and former model Nikki DuBose is working with the Eating Disorders Coalition to advocate for AB-2539, a bill that will regulate the modeling industry throughout California.

Advocates in South America are similarly working toward stricter regulations of the region’s fashion industry and general responses to mental health.

Resources Throughout South America

Asociacion de Lucha contra Bulimia y Anorexia is a large organization for eating disorder awareness and prevention based in Argentina. If you are looking for resources in South America, Asociacion de Lucha contra Bulimia y Anorexia would be a good place to begin your search and learn about what is available in your area.

In terms of treatment, ABINT Eating Disorder Treatment in Peru is a clinic that offers medical and psychological care for those struggling with eating disorders. This facility includes a family program to incorporate loved ones into the recovery process.

Rain in South AmericaThe Center: A Place of Hope, a leading eating disorder treatment facility in the United States, has a ministry in Ecuador that offers a wide range of treatment modalities to support patients and their families.

There is also a hospital in Chile, Clínica Alemana de Santiago, that provides acute medical care to individuals with eating disorders who are not medically stable. However, this location does not generally offer eating disorder treatment programs at lower levels of care.

Additionally, Natalia Mayor Arias, M.D., and Marcelo Papelbaum, M.D., Ph.D., are two eating disorder specialists based in South America.

For more information, including how to contact these facilities and professionals, view the South America section of Eating Disorder Hope’s international resources. If you know of any additional resources in this region, Contact Us.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How can we increase eating disorder awareness throughout South America?

Courtney Howard Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.


[1]: (2006). “Eating Disorders as a Public Health Emergency.” Inter-American Development Bank. Retrieved online October 12, 2016
[2]: Kessler, R. C., et al. (2013). The prevalence and correlates of binge eating disorder in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. Biological Psychiatry, 73(9), 904–914.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer 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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 18, 2016
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