Millions of Americans are silently suffering from eating disorders and will continue to do so in the coming years unless something is done, experts from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) said.
Just in time for the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a NEDA report revealed that about 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will be afflicted by an eating disorder some time in their lives. The disease also does not discriminate because it affects people from all age, gender groups, and ethnicity.
"Unfortunately, eating disorders are still largely defined as girl's and women's issues, but they effect men and women, girls and boys," said NEDA CEO Claire Mysko.
Mysko said eating disorders are often misunderstood and dismissed as vanity issues or choices when in fact, these conditions are extremely severe illnesses.
The most commonly-known eating disorders include bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, binge-eating disorder and orthorexia, but there are other lesser-known conditions called "other specified feeding or eating disorders" (OSFEDs).
About 4 percent of individuals with anorexia die from complications of the disease, making it the highest death rate for any mental illness, Mysko said. On the other hand, the mortality rate for bulimia was 3.9 percent.
Additionally, the number of Americans suffering from eating disorders is about 4 million higher than that of adults with heart disease, which has a whopping 26.6 million afflicted persons, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The National Eating Disorders Awareness Week -- kicked off on Feb. 21 and will end on Feb. 27 -- has been the vital tool for spreading the right information about these conditions since 2001.
Mysko said the focus of this year's campaign is early intervention.
"Our theme is 'Three minutes can save a life. Get screened, get help, get healthy,'" said Mysko. "We are directing people to an online screening tool."
Recovery from an eating disorder is possible at any point, but getting early treatment before behaviors become fixed can be easier for the person, she said.
While the online screening tool does not diagnose eating disorders, it does help the person identify behaviors that could be signs or symptoms of potential troubles. This allows for early intervention.
The online screening tool can be found on the association's website.