Eating Disorder Risk Factors

There are still many unanswered questions about eating disorders. Previous studies have shown that there are a number of risk factors that have been linked as possible causes of eating disorders. Eating disorder risk factors are characteristics that are more common in individuals suffering from eating disorders than among the general population. The presence of any of these eating disorder risk factors does not necessarily predict that an individual will develop an eating disorder. However, the more of these eating disorder risk factors that are present, the more likely it is than an individual will develop an eating disorder. If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, contact McCallum Place to learn about eating disorder treatment programs in St. Louis and Kansas City.


While eating disorders can occur in both men and women, females are as much as ten times more likely to develop anorexia or bulimia and 2.5 times more likely to experience binge eating disorder. This means simply that women and girls are at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder.


Eating disorders can occur in individuals of any age from children to older adults. However, studies show a peak in the occurrence of eating disorders during adolescence and early adulthood. Therefore, teenage girls and young women have the highest risk factor for developing eating disorders based on age.

Weight Concerns, Dieting, and Negative Body Image

Individuals who have previously shown weight concerns and a preoccupation with weight, have a history of dieting, and display a negative body image all show risk factors for developing eating disorders.

Psychological and Emotional Disorders

Studies have shown that depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and low self-esteem are eating disorder risk factors. Individuals who suffer from these emotional disorders are at risk of developing eating disorder in the future.

History of Sexual Abuse and Other Trauma

A history of sexual abuse is more common in individuals who suffer from eating disorders suggesting that this is an eating disorder risk factor. Additionally, other stressful events and traumas may also be linked to the development of eating disorders.

Childhood Obesity and Eating Problems

There is some evidence to show that adolescents and teens with a history of childhood obesity are at risk for bulimia and binge eating disorder.

Family Factors

Family discord, parental indifference, and overprotective parenting can be eating disorder risk factors. Additionally, the presence of psychological issues and a history of depression in a family can increase an individual’s risk for developing an eating disorder. Finally, families that fail to embrace a positive body image or are overly concerned with physical appearance can also contribute to the development of eating disorders.


There is evidence that shows individuals who have a close family member who suffered from an eating disorder or other mental illness are at a higher risk themselves of developing an eating disorder. Therefore, this suggests that there are genetic or biological eating disorder risk factors.

Participation in Specific Activities

Participation in certain sports and activities can be an eating disorder risk factor as these activities encourage athletes to be thin, quick, and extremely fit. These activities include swimming, gymnastics, wrestling, running, and dance.

Personality Traits

Certain personality traits may also contribute to the development of eating disorders. One of these personality traits that is an eating disorder risk factor is a high drive for perfectionism. Individuals who struggle for perfection are at risk for developing anorexia or bulimia.

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– A Former Resident
Marks of Quality Care
  • Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa
  • International Association Of Eating Disorders Professionals (IAEDP)
  • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)
  • National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
  • RenewED, Eating Disorders Support
  • Residential Eating Disorders Consortium
  • Washington University in St. Louis