Causes and Risk Factors for Eating Disorders

Social pressure to be thin affects everyone to some extent. The media inundates society with messages on TV, in the movies, in magazines, on billboards, and on the Internet, that thinness brings beauty, success, and happiness.

Researchers estimate that 0.5 to 1.5 percent of the population suffer from an eating disorder during their lives. Risk factors for developing an eating disorder include the following:

  • Having uncaring, controlling, unaffectionate, intrusive, perfectionistic, overprotective, or anxious parents
  • Having a sibling with an eating disorder
  • Having a history of sexual abuse
  • Having a mood disorder (e.g., depression), personality disorder, or substance abuse problem
  • Participating in activities that focus on weight, appearance, and lean body mass (e.g., ballet, modeling, gymnastics, acting, singing, figure skating, running, diving)
  • In men, homosexuals and long-distance runners have a greater risk than other men.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 02 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 04 Dec 2014