Hospitalizations for eating disorders declined, but big increase seen in pica disorder

Research Activities, December 2011, No. 376

Eating disorders as the primary reason for entering the hospital declined by 23 percent from 2007 and 2009, after a steep and steady increase from 1999 to 2007, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (AHRQ) The severity of eating disorders also lessened, with symptoms like irregular heartbeat and menstrual disorders declining by 39 percent and 46 percent, respectively.

However, from 1999 to 2009, hospitalizations jumped 93 percent for patients with an eating disorder called pica, which causes them to eat largely non-edible substances such as clay, dirt, chalk, and feces. Women and children, including those with autism and other mental or developmental disorders, are most likely to suffer from pica. According to data from AHRQ, between 1999 and 2009:

  • The number of hospital stays for patients with pica increased from 964 to 1,862 during the decade, and there was an overall increase of nearly 25 percent in cases of eating disorders.
  • Patients diagnosed with eating disorders were generally hospitalized for other conditions such as depression, fluid and electrolyte disorders, schizophrenia, or alcohol-related disorders.
  • Hospitalizations increased 13 percent for anorexia and decreased 14 percent for bulimia.

Although 9 in 10 cases of eating disorders were among women, those in men increased by 53 percent. This AHRQ News and Numbers summary is based on data from Statistical Brief #120, An Update on Hospitalizations for Eating Disorders, 1999-2009. The report uses data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample. For information about this AHRQ database, go to Databases and Related Tools from HCUP: Fact Sheet .

For additional information, or to speak with an AHRQ data expert, please contact Linwood Norman at or call (301) 427-1248.

Page last reviewed December 2011
Internet Citation: Hospitalizations for eating disorders declined, but big increase seen in pica disorder: Research Activities, December 2011, No. 376. December 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.