Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 299-304

First online:

Beliefs of women concerning the severity and prevalence of bulimia nervosa

  • J. M. MondAffiliated withDept. of Psychological Medicine Level 2, Building 15, The Canberra Hospital Email author 
  • , P. J. HayAffiliated withDept. of Psychiatry, University of Adelaide
  • , B. RodgersAffiliated withCentre for Mental Health Research, The Australian National University
  • , C. OwenAffiliated withDept. of Psychological Medicine Level 2, Building 15, The Canberra Hospital
  • , P. J. V. BeumontAffiliated withDept. of Psychological Medicine, University of Sydney

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Few studies have examined attitudes towards eating-disordered behaviour among women in the general population.


A vignette describing a fictional person meeting diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa (BN) was presented to a community sample of women aged 18–45. Respondents (n = 208) were asked a series of questions concerning the severity and prevalence of the problem described.


Most respondents viewed BN as a distressing condition whose sufferers are deserving of sympathy. However, more than one-third of respondents had at some stage believed that it ‘might not be too bad’ to be like the person described in the vignette. Most respondents believed that the prevalence of the problem described among women in the community was likely to be between 10 % and 30 % (48.6%) or between 30% and 50 % (23.1 %). Individuals with a clinically significant eating disorder (n = 13, 6.3%) were more likely to perceive the symptoms of BN as being acceptable, and its prevalence higher, than individuals with no eating disorder diagnosis.


Information concerning the medical and psychological sequelae of BN and other eating disorders might usefully be incorporated in prevention programmes. Prospective community-based research is required to elucidate the nature of the relationship between perceived acceptability of eating disorder symptoms and actual eating disorder psychopathology. Extension of the present research to examine the views of women in other cultures would also be of interest.

Key words

mental health literacy bulimia nervosa acceptability prevalence prevention