Atypical Anorexia Nervosa, not so atypical after all: Prevalence, correlates, and clinical severity among United States military Veterans

Eat Behav. 2021 Apr;41:101496. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2021.101496. Epub 2021 Mar 2.


Objective: DSM-5 Atypical Anorexia Nervosa (AAN), a new eating disorder diagnosis, presents similarly to Anorexia Nervosa (AN) in the absence of severe underweight. The prevalence of AAN and other DSM-5 eating disorders was estimated in a sample of Veterans. Sociodemographic, mental health, and eating behavior correlates were examined.

Method: Iraq and Afghanistan war era Veterans (N = 1137, 51.6% female) completed the Eating Disorder Diagnostic Scale-5 for probable AAN diagnosis, and validated measures of eating pathology and mental health, between February 2016 and October 2019. Multivariate analyses compared Veterans with AAN to those with and without any DSM-5 eating disorder.

Results: Among completers, 13.6% of women and 4.9% of men in the sample met criteria for probable AAN and 19.2% of women and 13.9% of men for another eating disorder. Mean age was 41 years, and on average BMIs were classified as overweight (BMI = 28.8, SD = 5.6) despite being at least 10% lower than their lifetime highest weight. Two-thirds reported dietary restraint on more than half the days in the past month. On measures of mental health, the AAN group had worse functioning than the no eating disorder group, similar functioning to Veterans with Binge Eating Disorder (BED), and better functioning than Veterans with Bulimia Nervosa (BN).

Discussion: Results support AAN as a highly prevalent and clinically significant diagnosis. Findings highlight the need to identify and address eating disorders, particularly other specified eating disorders not meeting criteria for AN, BN, or BED, in active military and Veteran, and other high-risk and underserved, populations.

Keywords: Atypical Anorexia Nervosa; Eating disorders; Military; Other specified feeding and eating disorders; Prevalence; Veterans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa* / diagnosis
  • Anorexia Nervosa* / epidemiology
  • Binge-Eating Disorder*
  • Bulimia Nervosa*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Veterans*