Incidence and prevalence of eating disorders among U.S. military service members, 2016–2021

Viviana Bauman*, Katherine A. Thompson, Kevin W. Sunderland, Jennifer A. Thornton, Natasha A. Schvey, Nana Amma Sekyere, Wendy Funk, Veronika Pav, Rick Brydum, David A. Klein, Marian Tanofsky-Kraff, Jason M. Lavender

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objective: Despite unique experiences that may increase eating disorder risk, U.S. military service members are an understudied population. The current study examined incidence and prevalence of eating disorder diagnoses in U.S. military personnel. Method: This retrospective cohort study utilized Military Health System Data Repository (MDR) data on eating disorder diagnoses (2016–2021). Active duty, Reserve, and National Guard U.S. military service members who received care via TRICARE Prime insurance were identified by ICD-10 eating disorder diagnostic codes. Results: During the 6-year surveillance period, 5189 Service members received incident eating disorders diagnoses, with a crude overall incidence rate of 6.2 cases per 10,000 person-years. The most common diagnosis was other/unspecified specified eating disorders, followed by binge-eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa. There was an 18.5% overall rise in total incident cases across the surveillance period, but this trend was not statistically significant (p = 0.09). Point prevalence significantly increased across the 6-year timeframe for total eating disorders (p < 0.001). Period prevalence for 6-year surveillance period was 0.244% for total eating disorders, 0.149% for other/unspecified eating disorder, 0.043% for bulimia nervosa, 0.038% for binge-eating disorder, and 0.013% for anorexia nervosa. Discussion: Overall crude incidence estimates for total eating disorders were higher than reported in prior research that included only active duty Service members and required an eating disorder diagnosis code in the first or second diagnostic position of the medical record. Comprehensive and confidential studies are needed to more thoroughly characterize the nature and scope of eating disorder symptomatology within U.S. military personnel. Public Significance: U.S. military service members are a vulnerable population with regard to eating disorder symptoms. Previously reported incidence and prevalence estimates using data from the Military Health System may have been underestimated due to overly stringent case definitions. Given personal and occupational barriers (e.g., career consequences), confidential studies of military personnel may provide more complete data on the scope of eating disorders to inform screening and clinical practice guidelines for military populations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • anorexia nervosa
  • binge-eating disorder
  • bulimia nervosa
  • eating disorders
  • incidence
  • military
  • other specified eating disorders
  • other unspecified eating disorders
  • prevalence

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