Eating disorders are increasingly common in the military
Eating disorders are becoming increasingly more common within the military, with diagnoses increasing by 26% over a five-year period, according to new research.
The findings, published recently in the Defense Health Agency’s Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, indicate that the prevalence of eating disorders had been consistently increasing from the start of the study in 2013 to 2016. However, they slightly decreased in the last year.
Diagnoses peaked at approximately 3 per 10,000 in 2016, before dipping slightly to 2.9 per 10,000 last year.
“Results of the current study suggest that servicemembers likely experience eating disorders at rates that are comparable to rates in the general population, and that rates of these disorders are potentially rising among service members,” wrote the researchers. “These findings underscore the need for appropriate prevention and treatment efforts in this population.”
Among those in the military, women were even more likely to live with an eating disorder compared to men than in the general population. More than two-thirds of cases included in the study involved female personnel. The overall incidence rate among women was more than 11 times that of their male counterparts, at 11.9 cases per 10,000.
“Of note, the overall incidence rate of all eating disorders among female Marine Corps members was nearly twice that among female Army members,” the study said. However, the rates were highest in the Army and Marines for men.
The prevalence of the specific eating disorders identified in the study also largely resembled that of the general population. Less than one-eighth of the diagnoses in the study involved anorexia, one of the less common but most recognized eating disorders.
Bulimia, on the other hand, accounted for more than 40% of diagnoses.
The study did not specifically identify binge eating disorder, the most common eating disorder among the general public. However, it found that “other” disordered eating behaviors – including binge eating – accounted for nearly half of all cases.
While the rate of diagnosis increased throughout the study, the researchers believe the military still underestimates the real prevalence of eating disorders in the military. This is partially because people with eating disorders frequently avoid seeking medical care and are often able to hide their condition.
The study did find several risk factors that could contribute to increasing eating disorders in the military, including potential exposure to trauma and the need to meet specific fitness and weight requirements.
It is well recognized that factors that increase emphasis on weight and shape elevate the risk of eating disorders among both women and men,” the study said.