The epidemiology and genetics of binge eating disorder (BED)

CNS Spectr. 2015 Dec;20(6):522-9. doi: 10.1017/S1092852915000462. Epub 2015 Aug 10.


This narrative review provides an overview of the epidemiology of binge eating disorder (BED), highlighting the medical history of this disorder and its entry as an independent condition in the Feeding and Eating Disorders section of the recently published Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Estimates of prevalence are provided, as well as recognition that the female to male ratio is lower in BED than in other eating disorders. Evidence is also provided of the most common comorbidities of BED, including mood and anxiety disorders and a range of addiction disorders. In addition, discussion of the viewpoint that BED itself may be an addiction - at least in severe cases - is presented. Although the genetic study of BED is still in its infancy, current research is reviewed with a focus on certain neurotransmitter genes that regulate brain reward mechanisms. To date, a focal point of this research has been on the dopamine and the μ-opioid receptor genes. Preliminary evidence suggests that a predisposing risk factor for BED may be a heightened sensitivity to reward, which could manifest as a strong dopamine signal in the brain's striatal region. Caution is encouraged, however, in the interpretation of current findings, since samples are relatively small in much of the research. To date, no genome-wide association studies have focused exclusively on BED.

Keywords: BED; binge eating disorder; dopamine genetics; epidemiology; opioids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Binge-Eating Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Binge-Eating Disorder / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics