Skip to Content

Eating disorders in college: A fast-growing problem


As college students start making their way home for winter break, experts say it's a good time for parents to look out for eating disorders.

Recent statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health estimate that about 25 percent of college students have patterns of disordered eating, and that the same percentage of college women are binging and purging to stay slim.

Katie McInnis, 32, says that after eight years of battling anorexia, she can quickly spot college students with eating disorders.

"You can pick them out. I gravitated toward them. It's almost this silent club."

While McInnis advises against aggressively confronting a student about an eating disorder, she does recommend that parents say something just before their child is headed back to school, like offering support and information about treatment resources.

"It's a seed that might grow later," she said.

What the experts say

Psychotherapist Kim Simpson recommends asking open-ended questions about college life or eating habits. And if a student doesn't seek treatment? That's when you should find professional help, Simpson says.

Experts also say to look out for changes in mood, behavior or appearance. Depression, anxiety, obsession over food, avoiding meal times or wearing baggy clothes might be indicators of a problem.

Lastly, eating disorder specialists note that college students must ultimately seek help on their own, so don't expect to be in the loop when your child returns to school. Privacy laws prevent counselors from sharing information with parents, so do your best to communicate with and support your child while still giving him or her the space needed to take care of the problem on his or her own.