Eating disorder symptoms across the weight spectrum in Australian adolescents

Elizabeth K. Hughes, Jessica A. Kerr, George C. Patton, Susan M. Sawyer, Melissa Wake, Daniel Le Grange, Peter Azzopardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Despite known associations between eating disorders and obesity, little is known about the current prevalence of symptoms of eating disorders across the weight spectrum. This study therefore aimed to estimate the population prevalence of eating disorder symptoms in relation to weight status in adolescents. Method: The sample comprised 3,270 participants (14–15 years; 52% boys) drawn from Wave 6 of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) were assessed using self-report on the Branched Eating Disorder Test. This measure identifies clinically significant symptoms in the past 3 months according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition. Using study-derived cross-sectional population weights, the prevalence of each symptom was estimated for the total population and by sex and weight status. Results: The estimated population prevalence was high (14.3–25.7%) for body image symptoms such as fear of weight gain and overvaluation of body weight but lower (0.5–3.7%) for behavioral symptoms such as binge eating and compensatory behaviors. Symptoms were more prevalent among adolescents with overweight or obesity. Although most symptoms tended to have higher prevalence among girls than boys, boys with obesity had higher prevalence of binge eating and excessive exercise than girls with obesity. The overall estimated population prevalence for AN and BN was 0.20% and 0.10%, respectively. Discussion: The study highlights a need for clinicians to be cognizant of disordered eating behaviors regardless of weight status and has implications for both eating disorder and obesity prevention and intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)885-894
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019


  • adolescents
  • anorexia nervosa
  • bulimia nervosa
  • eating disorders
  • obesity
  • overweight
  • prevalence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Cite this

Hughes, E. K., Kerr, J. A., Patton, G. C., Sawyer, S. M., Wake, M., Le Grange, D., & Azzopardi, P. (2019). Eating disorder symptoms across the weight spectrum in Australian adolescents. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 52(8), 885-894.