Binge-Eating Disorder Linked to Lifelong Impairments: The Dangers of Excess

First Posted: Sep 23, 2013 10:08 AM EDT

Are you a binge-eater? You may suffer lifelong impairments. In a 12-country study, researchers have discovered that binge-eating disorder has impairments that are comparable to those associated with bulimia nervosa.

Both binge-eating disorder and bulimia involved recurrent episodes of excessive food consumption with experienced loss of control. Yet in the past, researchers assumed that bulimia carried a greater functional burden of illness due to the fact that it has a more complex symptom profile. For example, bulimia includes purging behavior that offsets the weight gain associating with binging. Bing-eating disorder, in contrast, does not carry this symptom.

Now, though, scientists have discovered that binge-eating disorder may be just as unhealthy as bulimia nervosa. They compared populations of people with no history of eating disorders, a lifetime history of binge-eating disorder or bulimia. In all, they conducted community surveys in 12 countries, interviewing 22,635 adult participants. In the end, they found that those with binge-eating disorder and bulimia nervosa were associated with a range of later-onset mental disorders and physical disorders.

"Bing-eating disorder has been largely ignored by health care providers, but it has tremendous cost to the physical and psychological well-being of people with the disorder," said Ronald Kessler, one of the researchers, in a news release. "When all of the disorder are taken together, the elevated levels of depression, suicide and lost days at work represent substantial costs to society."

Both binge-eating disorder and bulimia nervosa typically arise during adolescence. The scientists found that both are also associated with depression and anxiety disorders in addition to physical disorders, such as musculoskeletal disorders and diabetes. In addition, early-onset binge-eating disorder was associated with subsequent low rates of employment among men, low rates of marriage among women and high rates of work disability among both men and women.

The findings reveal the importance of catching this disorder early. Because it often begins during adolescence, early detection is key to help prevent the long-term effects that can impact adult health.

The findings are published in the journal Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences.

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