Musicians have high prevalence of eating disorders, study finds

July 24, 2017 by Ryan O'hare, Imperial College London

They may live for the limelight and the call of their muse, but musicians may also be prone to eating disorders, according to new research.

A study of active musicians – including amateurs, students, professionals, and retired musicians – has found that they may have a high prevalence of food-related disorders, which could be explained by a combination of personality traits and the demands of the job.

According to the researchers, the apparent prevalence of eating disorders seen in musicians "could be due to their increased levels of perfectionism", and the findings could help doctors to look for warning signs among a subset of patients.

In the study, published this month in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders - Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, researchers gave questionnaires to 301 self-reported musicians, focusing on their physical and .

Striving for perfection

Over the course of 28 questions participants divulged key information about how anxious or depressed they were, their physical health and if they had ever suffered from a clinically diagnosable eating disorder.

The musicians performed across a broad range of musical genres – including jazz, hip hop, folk and rock – but the majority (85%) were classical musicians. Almost two-thirds of the participants were female, and the average age of the group was around 31 years of age.

After analysing the questionnaire data, the researchers revealed almost one-third of the group (32.3%) reported having experienced an , a higher proportion than the estimated 1.6 million adults thought to be affected in the UK.

Questions around mental health showed high rates of depression and stress among the group, and anxiety levels were higher still.

According to lead author Marianna Kapsetaki, a concert pianist and current PhD researcher in neuroscience at Imperial, the mental and practical strains arising from an unpredictable work schedule and constant travel may draw professional musicians into "a vicious circle of ".

Dr Kapsetaki explained that the demand to perform and to look the part may also add to the stress of musicians, adding: "These pressures can also lead to anxiety and depression which are risk factors for eating disorders."

Limiting factors

The authors highlight that a number of limiting factors may have influenced the outcomes, including the fact that musicians under the age of 18 were not incorporated in the study – a group in which eating disorders may be more prevalent – as well as a potential for more musicians with eating disorders to have taken part, based on the nature of the study.

Eating disorders are also statistically more likely to affect girls and women, which may have added to the prevalence reported by the largely female study group.

However, they add that making clinicians aware of the increased prevalence of eating disorders in musicians could enable them to provide additional care, helping to optimise their health, and ultimately, their performance.

Dr Kapsetaki said: "Performing Arts Medicine is a fairly new field and I believe there will be many more interesting projects in the future relating to the mental of performing artists."

She added: "Future studies could compare musicians with and without eating with behavioural tests and neuroimaging to see if there are any differences in brain structure."

Explore further: Eating disorders are affecting more UK women in their 40s and 50s

More information: Marianna Evangelia Kapsetaki et al. Eating disorders in musicians: a survey investigating self-reported eating disorders of musicians, Eating and Weight Disorders - Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity (2017). DOI: 10.1007/s40519-017-0414-9

Related Stories

Eating disorders are affecting more UK women in their 40s and 50s

January 16, 2017
In a UK study of 5,320 women, 3% were found to have an active eating disorder in mid-life, a figure higher than expected as eating disorders are primarily associated with adolescence or early adulthood. The research was published ...

Binge eating disorder can be treated

November 10, 2015
When most people hear the term "eating disorder," they usually think of anorexia or bulimia nervosa. While anorexia and bulimia are more commonly recognized, doctors are concerned about a different kind of eating disorder ...

Eating disorders during adolescence may have lasting socioeconomic consequences for women

April 7, 2015
In a recent study, females with eating disorders in late adolescence were more likely to have lower levels of educational attainment and personal income in early adulthood. They were also less likely to own a home. These ...

School affects girls' chances of being diagnosed with an eating disorder

April 21, 2016
The school a girl attends can affect her chance of being diagnosed with an eating disorder. That's the conclusion of research carried out by a joint UK-Swedish team. The results were published today in the International Journal ...

The incidence of eating disorders is increasing in the UK

May 20, 2013
More people are being diagnosed with eating disorders every year and the most common type is not either of the two most well known—bulimia or anorexia—but eating disorders not otherwise specified (eating disorders that ...

Recommended for you

When it comes to our brains, there's no such thing as normal

February 20, 2018
There's nothing wrong with being a little weird. Because we think of psychological disorders on a continuum, we may worry when our own ways of thinking and behaving don't match up with our idealized notion of health. But ...

Jymmin: How a combination of exercise and music helps us feel less pain

February 20, 2018
Pain is essential for survival. However, it could also slow the progress of rehabilitation, or in its chronic form could become a distinct disorder. How strongly we feel it, among other factors, depends on our individual ...

College roommates underestimate each other's distress, new psychology research shows

February 19, 2018
College roommates are sensitive to their roommates' distress but tend to underestimate the level of distress being experienced by others, finds a newly published study from New York University psychology researchers.

New approaches in neuroscience show it's not all in your head

February 16, 2018
Our own unique experiences shape how we view the world and respond to the events in our lives. But experience is highly subjective. What's distressing or joyful to one person may be very different to another.

Link between hallucinations and dopamine not such a mystery, finds study

February 16, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) found that people with schizophrenia who experience auditory hallucinations tend to hear what they expect, ...

People find comfort listening to the same songs over and over, study finds

February 16, 2018
With the frequency that some people play their favorite song, it's a good thing vinyl records aren't used often because they might wear out.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.