There is a massive gap in our understanding of how far, wide and deep eating disorders have spread in India. With access to only limited and sporadic research, here’s what we can say with some degree of certainty.
- Eating disorders have one of the highest death rates when compared with other psychiatric disorders, coming second only to opioid overdose. 1
- At least 50% of patients with an Eating Disorder are known to have a psychiatric comorbidity, with depression being the most common.2
- A significant proportion of adolescents have body image concerns. In India, the proportion of adolescents with body image concerns is seen to be 54% , 81% , 27%  and 33%  in different regions.
- Research on treatments for eating disorders, as well as most mental health problems in general, indicates that early identification and treatment faster speeds of recovery, reduction of symptoms to a larger extent and improves the possibility of staying free of the eating disorder.7
- The onset of Eating disorders is seen to frequently happen at a younger age. A study of 3274 Adolescents who visited a Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Unit, in Vellore, reported a prevalence of 1.25% for Eating Disorders.8
- While the occurrence of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia is typically seen more in younger girls, Eating disorders and body image concerns can affect a person of any age, gender and socio economic status. A study of 550 pre university students (47.8 % males and 70.36% living in rural areas) in Udupi Taluk, Karnataka revealed that 31.09% participants had a tendency to develop an eating disorder.9
- In India, two studies reported the prevalence of eating distress syndrome (EDS)10 to be 11% and 14.8%.[11,12]
- In India, while there are no large scale community based studies determining the prevalence of eating disorders in the total population, the general estimated prevalence of any Eating Disorder is 1.01%, and those of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder are 0.21%, 0.81%, and 2.22% of the total population, respectively.13
- Eating disorders being mental illnesses can affect persons irrespective of body shapes and sizes. Less than 6 % of those who have eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight.”14
- College students who are transgender report experiencing disordered eating approximately four times more than their classmates who are cisgendered.15
- Men who are gay are 7 times more likely to report binge-eating and twelve times more likely to report purging than men who are heterosexual.16
1 Harris, C., & Barraclough, B. (1998). Excess mortality of mental disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry, 173(1), 11–53. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.173.1.11
2 Becker, C. B., Plasencia, M., Kilpela, L. S., Briggs, M., & Stewart, T. (2014). Changing the course of comorbid eating disorders and depression: what is the role of public health interventions in targeting shared risk factors? Journal of Eating Disorders, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/2050-2974-2-15
3 Shah, Hasmukh & Shaikh, Wasim & Singh, Sushil. (2012). Are Indian adolescent girls students more conscious about their body image than their colleague boys. Nat J Comm Med. 3. 344-347.
4 Sasi RV, Maran K. (2012). Advertisement Pressure and its Impact on Body Dissatisfaction and Body Image Perception of Women in India. Global Media Journal, 3(1).
5 Singh, J. V., Singh, N., Dixit, S., Agarwal, G. G., & Kant, S. (2011). A study on consciousness of adolescent girls about their body image. Indian Journal of Community Medicine, 36(3), 197–202. https://doi.org/10.4103/0970-0218.86520
6 Prasanna, K. S., Sucharitha, S., Vaz, N. C., & Priya, D. (2010). Body image perception and attempts to change weight among female medical students at Mangalore. Indian Journal of Community Medicine, 35(2), 316–320. https://doi.org/10.4103/0970-0218.66886
7 Treasure, J., & Russell, G. (2011). The case for early intervention in anorexia nervosa: theoretical exploration of maintaining factors. British Journal of Psychiatry, 199(1), 5–7. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.bp.110.087585
8 Mammen, P., Russell, S., & Russell, P. S. (2007). Prevalence of eating disorders and psychiatric co-morbidity among children and adolescents. Indian pediatrics, 44(5), 357.
9 Bhumika, T. V. (2016). Body image, eating disorders and role of media among Indian adolescents. Journal of Indian Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health-ISSN 0973-1342, 12(1), 9-35.
10 EDS refers to subsyndromal forms of eating disorders where people have distressing and conflicting thoughts about body shape and eating habits and is characterized by strict dieting, and bingeing in a few cases. It does not accompany significant weight loss or behaviors such as resorting to severe measures of weight loss such as diet pills, starvation, purging, or vomiting.
11 Srinivasan, T. N., Suresh, T. R., Jayaram, V., & Fernandez, M. P. (1995). Eating disorders in India. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 37(1), 26.
12 Srinivasan, T. N., Suresh, T. R., & Jayaram, V. (1998). Emergence of eating disorders in India. Study of eating distress syndrome and development of a screening questionnaire. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 44(3), 189-198.
13 Qian, J., Hu, Q., Wan, Y., Li, T., Wu, M., Ren, Z., & Yu, D. (2013). Prevalence of eating disorders in the general population: a systematic review. Shanghai archives of psychiatry, 25(4), 212.
14 Arcelus, J., Mitchell, A. J., Wales, J., & Nielsen, S. (2011). Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders: a meta-analysis of 36 studies. Archives of general psychiatry, 68(7), 724-731.
15 Lauren Muhlheim, P. D. (2021, May 31). Eating Disorders in Transgender People. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/eating-disorders-in-transgender-people-4582520.
16 Eating Disorders in LGBTQ+ Populations. National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 21). https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/lgbtq.