Researchers at Harvard University Medical School have found as a result of a national survey that binge eating is far more common than anorexia and bulimia.
Binge eating is defined as bouts of uncontrolled eating which continues well beyond the point of feeling full.
Lead author James I. Hudson, MD, ScD, director of the Psychiatric Epidemiology Research Program at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says binge eating can lead to obesity and related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
Hudson says it is the most common eating disorder and deserves more recognition from health professionals.
The researchers say frequent uncontrolled eating binges without purging, affects 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men at some point in their lives.
Those figures are higher than the figures for both anorexia and bulimia.
Dr. Harrison Pope, one of the study's authors says the results show that binge eating is more common than both the other eating disorders combined and is strongly associated with obesity.
The research team interviewed more than 9,000 people nationwide from 2001 to 2003 about their eating habits and psychological backgrounds and the authors suspect the figures are likely to be underestimated and the actual number is in reality much greater.
The survey indicated that people battle with binge eating for longer, with symptoms persisting for an average of about eight years compared to less than two years for anorexic patients.
The most likely candidates are men and women between the ages of 18 and 29 and all three illnesses are usually connected with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Experts agree that the population of binge eaters is growing.
The results were published in the current issue of the medical journal Biological Psychiatry.