Military Servicemembers at Increased Risk for Eating Disorders

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Mounting evidence suggests that eating disorders are higher among servicemembers than among civilians.

While there’s not enough substantial data collected to quantify the prevalence of eating disorders among servicemembers, previous research suggests female servicemembers are 4 percent more likely to develop an eating disorder than females not in the service.

An estimated 14 percent of active duty military personnel are women, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Still, a 2009 published study in Military Medicine found no difference in the prevalence of eating disorders between West Point cadets and students at civilian colleges.

A review published in 2008 looking at nearly a decade of medical data from servicemembers diagnosed with an eating disorder, suggested that the diagnosis of eating disorders among servicemembers doubled from 1998 to 2006, although the number remained relatively small.  A majority of those diagnosed were Marines.

Experts said a combination of environmental and traditional factors place soldiers, especially women, at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder than any other group of people.

Women who report feeling deployment stress may be at a higher risk for developing eating disorders and weight loss, according to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

According to Dr. Kim Dennis, medical director of Timberline Knolls, a residential eating disorder treatment center in Lemont, Ill., eating disorders among women in the military are underreported and often difficult to detect.

“I think that goes hand in hand with denial and minimization of eating disorders,” said Dennis, whose facility sees a substantial amount of women in the military. “They’re more recognized as having a substance disorder.”

Eating disorders can range in forms including excessive physical activity, extreme dieting, anorexia, binging and bulimia.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Respond to this story