Eating Disorders and College Students


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     Eating disorders among college students are a serious health concern. With consequences ranging up to chronic health problems and even death, we all have to acknowledge them as the threats they are. To make matters worse, those who suffer eating disorders will often do their best to conceal them in a variety of ways, when treatment could help them to manage or cure the problem.

     Please consider the following statistics:

  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
  • Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents.
  • The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15-24 years old.
  • 25% of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique.

     (These are just a few of the compelling and disturbing statistics available in a free publication of the Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, "Eating Disorders 101 Guide: A Summary of Issues, Statistics and Resources," published September 2002, revised October 2003,


     Eating disorders are generally characterized in one of three ways:

"Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating. (Other common methods of purging include abuse of laxatives and over exercise.)

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder not otherwise specified and is characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating."

     (These definitions were copied from the pages of the National Eating Disorders Association. Their pages include much more detailed information on each condition.)


     Itís important to recognize that an eating disorder may be "blurred," or even change in characteristics. Itís also likely that a disorder is reflection of some other conflict, or a manifestation of a desperate need to establish some control. Eating disorders may become more likely in times of stress, and certainly the transition to college brings about a lot of stress for most students.

     What can you do about eating disorders? For yourself, be open to getting help. Eating disorders are a serious (but not shameful) problem that will probably require professional help. Think about it this way. If you had a broken arm, would you go see a doctor? Of course you would. Eating disorders are no different, except that they are more dangerous if left untreated.

     For a friend, express your concern. (Iíll assume youíve read enough on the subject to recognize the symptoms.) Be supportive and willing to listen. Talk about their feelings, but donít try to fix the problem. Eating disorders may be related to all sorts of issues that require professional help. Above all, encourage your friend to get that professional help. If they refuse, share the problem with someoneóa parent, an on-campus professional, or someone else positioned to offer support and help.

     I'm posting this info because I've recently learned how widespread and devastating eating disorders are. At the same time, I want to stress that I am no expert (I'm not even a well informed amateur) on these subjects. If you or anyone you know needs help with an eating disorder, please seek competent professional help.

     To those I borrowed from to put this page together, my deepest thanks. If your information helps even one person get help with an eating disorder, I hope youíll agree my borrowing from your work was worthwhile.


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