Eating disorders

Eating disorders are caused by either insufficient or excessive food intake that causes negative effects on an individual's physical and mental health. The most common forms are Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorders.

Anorexia nervosa is characterised by extreme food restriction to the point of self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Bulimia nervosa is a disorder characterised by binge eating and purging.

While more common in females, eating disorders can also affect males.

The symptoms of eating disorders

  • Average length of illness is five to seven years, with 1 in 5 suffering chronic disease
  • Pre-puberty prevalence in boys vs girls is 1:3; post-puberty the ratio between boys and girls aged 12-20 changes to 1:10; however, anorexia is reported in people aged 8-70
  • High mortality rate (20% eventually die of the consequences)
  • Highest rate of suicide and suicide attempts (at least 1 in 5)
  • Effects include brain deterioration, decreased bone density, reduced fertility, changes to heart rate and blood pressure, and other medical problems

The causes of eating disorders

The precise cause of eating disorders is not entirely understood and is likely to involve a variety of factors including genetic, metabolic, mental and environmental influences.

Garvan's research into eating disorders

We use various animal models to investigate why appetite is altered and bodyweight is reduced. The aim is to identify the critical players that are dis-regulated under this condition and find potential targets that can be used to develop drugs that may be beneficial for the treatment of anorexia and other related conditions.

This content is provided for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, please consult a suitably qualified healthcare professional.


Key Statistics

  • Affects over 4% of Australians
  • Many people with eating disorders also present with at least one other lifetime psychiatric disorder.
  • 95% of Australian hospitalisations for eating disorders were female
  • 10th leading cause of non-fatal disease burden for females aged 15-44

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