Children at Risk

Estimates of prevalence vary: some estimates say only about 1 percent of American girls and women have anorexia. Others suggest that up to 10 percent of adolescent girls have anorexia. Anorexia is more common in girls and women, but recent research suggests that an increasing number of boys and men have been developing eating disorders in the last decade. And while anorexia is more common among teens, people of any age can develop this eating disorder. Certain factors increase the risk of developing anorexia, including:

  • Dieting. Children who diet are likely to develop an eating disorder.

  • Pubertal changes. Some adolescents have difficulty coping with the body changes of puberty. They may also face peer pressure and be more sensitive to criticism or even casual comments about their weight or body.

  • Transitions. Whether it's heading off to college, landing a new job, or a relationship breakup, changes are frequent during adolescence and can cause emotional distress. One way to cope, in situations that may be out of one's control, is to latch on to something they can control, like eating.

  • Sports, work and artistic activities. Athletes, actors, television personalities, dancers, models, runners, wrestlers, are at high risk for anorexia. For some, such as ballerina, ultra-thinness may be a professional requirement. Coaches and parents may contribute to eating disorders by encouraging young athletes to lose weight.

  • Media and society. The media, such as television and fashion magazines, feature skinny models, which may lead girls and young women to believe that thinness leads to success and popularity.