While any mental health disorder can pose significant health challenges, eating disorders are currently the most deadly category of mental health conditions.

Any mental health disorder can present risk factors across the duration of a person’s life. However, the mental health conditions that have the highest mortality rates are eating disorders. There are several types of eating disorders; each has its own set of associated health risks that involve multiple body systems, making this class of mental health disorders the deadliest of all psychiatric illnesses.

Eating disorders are classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition as eating-related behaviors that result in changes in the consumption of food and impairment of health or psychosocial factors. Currently, an estimated 30 million Americans live with an eating disorder. Eating disorders affect people of all genders, races and socioeconomic levels. Someone dies from an eating disorder every 62 minutes.

Dangers of Eating Disorders: Staggering Mortality Rates

The dangers of eating disorders are vast because the conditions impact multiple bodily systems, leading to a high eating disorder mortality rate. People who struggle with this condition end up compromising their body’s essential functions, which can quickly deteriorate health. If the condition persists, it can cause lifelong health problems or even death.


Anorexia is a condition in which an individual severely restricts food or nutrient intake to lose weight. It is possible for anyone to have anorexia, but the most common age group is adolescent girls and young women. At around 6%, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all eating disorders. The high rate of death is a direct result of insufficient nutrients to feed the body, which creates malnutrition and other deadly complications such as heart problems, anemia, bone density and digestive problems.

Often, people with anorexia tend to hide their condition from others by wearing extra baggy clothing to conceal their weight loss and avoiding mealtimes with others. These measures to hide the condition can make it difficult to help individuals with anorexia undergo treatment. When treated, anorexia can be managed with individual and family psychotherapy, group work and medical attention.


An estimated 1.5% of women in America will struggle with bulimia in their lifetime, though it can also impact men. Bulimia is a condition in which someone eats a large quantity of food and tries to rid themselves of the food or weight gain by vomiting, taking laxatives, fasting or exercising excessively. Bulimia tends to be a condition that affects adolescents and teens most commonly, but recent research has shown that the condition is present in 13% of women over the age of 50.  

Numerous health problems can arise from bulimia, including electrolyte imbalance (which can increase the risk of heart attack), tooth decay, ulcers, dehydration and irregular periods. In addition to these factors, the overuse of laxative can cause intestinal damage and long-term problems with bowel function. The bulimia mortality rate per year is 0.17% of those diagnosed with the condition. Often with bulimia, it is the secondary complications of the disorder that cause death.

Some common signs and symptoms of bulimia are scrapes or scratches on the knuckles from induced vomiting, decaying teeth, gastrointestinal issues, severe dehydration, swollen jaw or cheeks, sadness, distress about appearance and social isolation.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder involves the uncontrollable overconsumption of food in one sitting. The condition generally manifests in symptoms such as eating large amounts of food, sometimes rapidly, to point at which the person feels overly full and experiences guilt or shame. Often people with binge eating disorder chose to eat alone due to embarrassment about the condition and their loss of control over eating patterns.

Binge eating disorder impacts 2.8% of American adults in their lifespan. It is more common than other eating disorders, breast cancer and HIV.  In women, the disorder typically begins in early adulthood, while men tend to develop the condition in midlife.

Binge eating disorder can be challenging to detect. Obesity is correlated with binge eating disorder but is not necessarily a side effect. People of all shapes and sizes can develop binge eating disorder. Even though it is not necessarily connected to one’s size, the complications that can arise from binge eating disorder are associated with obesity and include sleep apnea, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The binge eating mortality rate is lower than that of other eating disorders. The dangerous side effects of binge eating disorder increase the risk of long-term complications, which can lead to death if not managed properly.

Co-Occurring Disorders Increase Suicide Risk

Eating disorders are challenging to manage and are commonly associated with depressionanxiety and suicidal ideation. An estimated 1 in 5 deaths of people with anorexia are from suicide. In a study of 1885 patients, the estimated suicide rate for people with bulimia was 23%. These staggering eating disorder suicide rates make these conditions the most dangerous of all mental health disorders.

Despite these shocking statistics, eating disorder treatment is available. Medical care, therapy and group support are key factors in treating and managing an eating disorder.

If you find yourself struggling with co-occurring substance abuse and eating disorder, reach out to The Recovery Village for support in finding the right kind of treatment. You are not alone. Call today for more information.

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Paula Holmes
Medically Reviewed By – Paula Holmes, LCSW
Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master's degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.