Open Access Research article

Binge eating, purging and non-purging compensatory behaviours decrease from adolescence to adulthood: A population-based, longitudinal study

Dawit Shawel Abebe12*, Lars Lien3, Leila Torgersen2 and Tilmann von Soest12

Author Affiliations

1 Norwegian Social Research (NOVA), P.O. Box 3223, Elisenberg 0208 Oslo, Norway

2 Division of Mental Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway

3 Division of Mental Health and Addiction, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:32  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-32

Published: 13 January 2012



Subclinical forms of eating disorders (ED) are highly prevalent, but relatively little is known about age trends, gender differences and distinctions among symptoms. This study investigates age trends and gender difference in binge eating, purging and non-purging compensatory behaviours (CB) and the relationship of such behaviours to psychosocial problems.


Data from the national representative longitudinal study "Young in Norway" (ages 14-34 years) were analysed using χ2 tests, logistic random intercept models and analyses of covariance.


For both genders, a decrease was found in the prevalence of CB from age 14-16 years to 23 years and over. For binging, however, a significant decrease was found only for females, whose binge eating also declined more markedly over time than did males'. A significant gender difference was detected for purging, with females at higher risk. Purging was related to particularly serious symptoms of psychosocial problems: Those who purged had significantly higher levels of appearance dissatisfaction, anxiety and depressive symptoms, alcohol consumption, self-concept instability and loneliness than those with symptoms of other forms of disordered eating.


Individuals affected by purging need to be targeted as a high-risk group. The distinction in severity among the subclinical ED may indicate the need for the reformulation of the eating disorder not otherwise specified category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V.