Prevalence, incidence, and natural course of anorexia and bulimia nervosa among adolescents and young adults

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2016 Aug;25(8):903-18. doi: 10.1007/s00787-015-0808-z. Epub 2016 Jan 11.


We aimed to assess the prevalence, incidence, age-of-onset and diagnostic stability of threshold and subthreshold anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) in the community. Data come from a prospective-longitudinal community study of 3021 subjects aged 14-24 at baseline, who were followed up at three assessment waves over 10 years. Eating disorder (ED) symptomatology was assessed with the DSM-IV/M-CIDI at each wave. Diagnostic stability was defined as the proportion of individuals still affected with at least symptomatic eating disorders (EDs) at follow-ups. Baseline lifetime prevalence for any threshold ED were 2.9 % among females and 0.1 % among males. For any subthreshold ED lifetime prevalence were 2.2 % for females and 0.7 % for males. Symptomatic expressions of EDs (including core symptoms of the respective disorder) were most common with a lifetime prevalence of 11.5 % among females and 1.8 % among males. Symptomatic AN showed the earliest onset with a considerable proportion of cases emerging in childhood. 47 % of initial threshold AN cases and 42 % of initial threshold BN cases showed at least symptomatic expressions of any ED at any follow-up assessment. Stability for subthreshold EDs and symptomatic expressions was 14-36 %. While threshold EDs are rare, ED symptomatology is common particularly in female adolescents and young women. Especially threshold EDs are associated with a substantial risk for stability. A considerable degree of symptom fluctuation is characteristic especially for subthreshold EDs.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa; Bulimia nervosa; Epidemiology; Prevalence; Stability.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / epidemiology*
  • Bulimia Nervosa / epidemiology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Young Adult