It is possible to develop eating disorders with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing eating disorders. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your health care provider what you can do to reduce your risk.

A number of factors can play a role in your risk of developing an eating disorder. Emotional stress, generated by significant life events, often precedes the onset of an eating disorder in susceptible individuals.
The following factors have been found to increase the risk of developing an eating disorder:

Gender
Females are much more likely than males to develop an eating disorder. Only an estimated 5%-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia and an estimated 35% of those with binge eating disorder are male.

Socioeconomic Factors
People living in economically developed nations appear to have a higher risk for developing eating disorders. Studies suggest that within economically developed countries the risk for bulimia may be higher among lower socioeconomic groups.

Age
Eating disorders are most prevalent in people (usually girls and young women) between the ages of 12 and 25, although they can occur in children and older adults.

Athletics and Certain Professions
Athletes, such as dancers, jockeys, gymnasts, runners, wrestlers, and cheerleaders, tend to be at higher risk for eating disorders. Many coaches and teachers encourage thinness to achieve a competitive edge. They may advocate calorie counting and inappropriate loss of body fat. There is also a higher risk of eating disorders in models, actresses, entertainers, sorority members, socialites, and male homosexuals related to pressures to be thin.

Early Puberty
Girls who experience early puberty are more at risk for developing an eating disorder. Since they mature physically faster than their peers and have an increase in normal body fat, they may feel isolated and under greater pressure to restrict their food intake.

Personality Factors
Certain personality factors seem to increase a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder. People with eating disorders tend to be perfectionists who have high expectations of themselves and others. In spite of being high achievers, they may have low self-esteem and identity problems. They are prone to dichotomous thinking, i.e., seeing everything as good or bad, a success or a failure. This thinking carries over to issues about weight, where thin is good and thinnest is best.
Fear of change and difficulty coping with stress are common in people who have eating disorders. They may also fear criticism, avoid sexuality, or act out impulsively. Among people with eating disorders, there are high rates of borderline personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and narcissism. New research suggests that, in addition to personality traits, abnormal levels of certain brain chemicals may predispose some people to eating disorders.

Emotional Disorders
People with emotional disorders such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety disorders (e.g., panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder), are at greater risk for developing an eating disorder. In fact, between 40% and 96% of all people with eating disorders experience depression or anxiety disorders.

Family Influences
Negative influences within a family can play a role in eating disorders. Some studies suggest that eating disorders are more prevalent in people where one or both parents are overprotective, detached, critical, rigid, or ineffective at resolving conflict.
A person may be more at risk for developing an eating disorder if he or she has parents who have psychiatric disorders or who abuse alcohol or other addictive substances. Research suggests that daughters of mothers who have a history of eating disorders may be at higher risk for an eating disorder. Eating disorders are also more common in families where there is pressure to be thin.

Social and Cultural Pressures
Beauty standards in Western culture focus on youth and thinness. Images of thin, beautiful, successful people are constantly portrayed in the media. These and other pressures, such as pressures from appearance-obsessed peers and romantic partners, lead to higher rates of eating disorders in people in Western culture.

History of Sexual Abuse
A history of sexual abuse is common in women with eating disorders, especially those with bulimia. Studies have found rates of sexual abuse to be as high as 35% in women with bulimia.

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