The epidemiology of eating disorders in six European countries: results of the ESEMeD-WMH project

J Psychiatr Res. 2009 Sep;43(14):1125-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2009.04.003. Epub 2009 May 8.


Few data are available to estimate the prevalence of eating disorders (EDs) and their correlates in the community. This paper reports data on EDs obtained in the framework of the ESEMeD project, aimed at investigating the prevalence of non-psychotic mental disorders in six European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain), using a new version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. The ESEMeD study was a general population cross-sectional household survey. In total, 21,425 respondents aged 18 or older provided data for the project between January 2001 and August 2003. A subsample (N=4139) underwent a detailed investigation on EDs. Lifetime estimated prevalence of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, sub-threshold binge eating disorder, and any binge eating were 0.48%, 0.51%, 1.12%, 0.72%, and 2.15%, respectively, and they were 3-8 times higher among women for all EDs. However, since people under 18 were excluded from this study, our prevalence should be taken as lower-bound estimate of real frequencies. Indeed, cumulative lifetime prevalence analysis showed that the majority of eating disorders had their initial onset between 10 and 20 years of age. Role impairment and comorbidity with other mental disorders were highly common, yet only small proportions of patients with a lifetime diagnosis of EDs requested medical treatment. It still has to be proven whether early diagnostic identification and access to specialized care can reduce the burden caused by these disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Age of Onset
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / classification
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / complications
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult