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Thursday, February 1, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Binge eating country's most common eating disorder, survey says

The Associated Press

BOSTON — Frequent binge eating is the country's most common eating disorder, far outpacing the better-known problems of anorexia and bulimia, according to a national survey.

Psychiatric researchers at Harvard University Medical School and its affiliate, McLean Psychiatric Hospital, have billed the study as the first national census of eating disorders. The results are published today in Biological Psychiatry.

The survey found that 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men suffer from binge eating, defined as bouts of uncontrolled eating, well past the point of being full, that occur at least twice a week.

The doctors diagnosed fewer than 1 percent of women and 0.3 percent of men with anorexia, a disorder where an exaggerated fear of weight gain causes undereating and malnourishment.

The study determined that 1.5 percent of women and 0.5 percent of men had bulimia, characterized by the "binge-purge" syndrome of overeating followed by vomiting.

McLean Hospital's Dr. Harrison Pope, an author of the study, said binge eaters face severe risk of obesity and related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.

A binge eater, for instance, might eat a full dinner, then a quart of ice cream for dessert, followed by a bag of chips, without being able to stop, Pope said.

"It's a little bit analogous to something you hear from an alcoholic, when they might say, 'Well, I wanted to have one drink,' and they've had 12 drinks and they're passed out on the floor," he said. "Even though they feel full, even though they feel disgusting and guilty, they can't stop."

Dr. James Hudson, the study's lead author and a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor, said binge eating deserves more recognition from health professionals.

Binge-eating disorder is not classified as an official medical diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of the psychiatric profession.


Funding for the study came from several sources, including the National Institutes of Health, Eli Lilly and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Hudson said the research team interviewed more than 9,000 people nationwide from 2001-03 about their eating habits and psychological backgrounds.

Men and women between 18 and 29 were most likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, while people older than 60 had the lowest rates of eating problems.

Material from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.

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