Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are a complex mental illness that for some, can lead to severe and permanent physical complications, and even death.1 Most eating disorders are characterised by abnormal eating habits, and an unhealthy preoccupation with eating, weight, body shape and food. Eating disorders are not a choice, they are serious illnesses.2

There are four main types of eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder and other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED).2

Anorexia Nervosa (AN) causes significant disability and burden, afflicting 3% of females and .03% of males.  Bulimia Nervosa (BN) and Binge Eating Disorder (BED) are more common than AN and carry substantial morbidity and profoundly impact quality of life.  Researchers so far have only scratched the surface in understanding the causes of eating disorders.  Our researchers propose to use genetics to understand the biology of eating disorders and, in turn, the pathways and systems that influence these complex diseases.

Approximately one-in-20 Australians, and an estimated four to seven per cent of the Australian adult population are living with an eating disorder.3, 4 The prevalence of eating disorders appears to be on the rise, with a two-fold increase in the prevalence of disordered eating behaviour observed in Australian communities over 10 years.5

People with eating disorders frequently present with psychiatric co-morbidities including mood disorders (such as depression), anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance abuse disorders, personality disorders, self-harm and suicide. Individuals with eating disorders can also present with serious medical complications, and may require hospitalisation. 

Currently the available treatment options for eating disorders are limited. No medications are approved, or are effective in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. Identifying genes and gene pathways that influence risk for these disorders has the potential to open new avenues for drug repurposing or discovery.


The Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative (EDGI) is the largest and most rigorous genetic investigation of eating disorders ever performed.

  • EDGI researchers propose to use genetics to understand the biology of eating disorders and, in turn, the pathways and systems that influence these complex diseases
  • Last year EDGI researchers published the exciting results from their previous collaborative study – the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI) study – identifying eight genetic variants significantly associated with anorexia nervosa
  • Following these ground-breaking advances, EDGI researchers are now expanding their work to attend to the three major eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder
  • The Australian arm of EDGI aims to recruit 3,500 Australians who have experienced an eating disorder at some time in their life, as well as a control group, to help us reach this goal.  We are actively recruiting participants, go to



  1. National Eating Disorders Collaboration. What is an eating disorder? [cited October 2019]; Available from:
  2. Walker, S. and C. Lloyd, Barriers and attitudes health professionals working in eating disorders experience. International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, 2011. 18(7): p. 383-390.
  3. Hay, P., F. Girosi, and J. Mond, Prevalence and sociodemographic correlates of DSM-5 eating disorders in the Australian population. J Eat Disord, 2015. 3: p.
  4. Smink, F.R., D. van Hoeken, and H.W. Hoek, Epidemiology of eating disorders: incidence, prevalence and mortality rates. Curr Psychiatry Rep, 2012. 14(4): p. 406-14.
  5. Hay, P.J., et al., Eating disorder behaviors are increasing: findings from two sequential community surveys in South Australia. PloS one, 2008. 3(2): p. e1541-e1541.