There is little data on the prevalence of bulimia nervosa in-the-large, on general populations. Most studies conducted thus far have been on convenience samples from hospital patients, high school or university students. These have yielded a wide range of results: between 0.1% and 1.4% of males, and between 0.3% and 9.4% of females. Studies on time trends in the prevalence of bulimia nervosa have also yielded inconsistent results.

There are higher rates of eating disorders in groups involved in activities which idealize a slim physique, such as dance, gymnastics, modeling, cheerleading, running, acting, rowing and figure skating. Bulimia is more prevalent among Caucasians. Exposure to mass media also appears to have an effect: a survey of 15-18 year-old high schoolgirls in Nadroga, Fiji found the self-reported incidence of purging rose from 0% in 1995 (a few weeks after the introduction of television in the province) to 11.3% in 1998.