Children at Risk

Since the definition of a binge-eating disorder is not clear, it's not known with certainty how many people have binge-eating disorder. But some experts say that binge-eating disorder is the most common of all eating disorders. Estimates suggest that up to 4 percent of the U.S. population has binge-eating disorder, with girls and women slightly more likely than boys and men to develop the condition. Both children and adults can develop binge-eating disorder, but it's most common in the 40s and 50s.

The risk factors may vary from those of other eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia. Risk factors for binge-eating disorder may include:

  • Dieting. Dieting is often a risk factor for anorexia and bulimia, but it's not clear what role it plays in binge-eating disorder. People with binge-eating disorder have a mixed history of dieting - some have dieted to excess dating back to childhood, while others haven't dieted. Dieting may trigger an urge to binge eat.

  • Psychological issues. Certain behaviors and emotional problems are more common with binge-eating disorder. As with bulimia, a person may act impulsively and feel a lack of control over her behavior.

  • Sexual abuse. Some people with binge-eating disorder say they were sexually abused as children.

  • Media and society. A preoccupation with body shape, weight and appearance is common with binge-eating disorder. Messages in the media that equate thinness with success may heighten the self-criticism that's common in binge eating.