BACKGROUND Comparisons were made between two groups of anorectic patients, 'non-white' and 'white', on a variety of clinical and social characteristics.

METHOD The study is based on a 34-year long database (1960-93) associated with a national tertiary referral centre. Thirty-six non-white patients meeting DSM-III-R criteria for anorexia nervosa (AN) and five with 'partial syndrome' are compared with a white group comprising 944 patients with full syndrome.

RESULTS The main finding is clinical similarity between the two groups, extending to social class and pathological patterns of family relationship. The non-whites are shorter in stature (P = 0.004) and report earlier menarche (P = 0.004); they are younger at presentation (P < 0.001), somewhat less emaciated, and practice veganism slightly more commonly; they less often acknowledge sensitivity to 'fatness' (P < 0.003). This sensitivity was exposed later whenever treatment involved substantial weight gain. The proportion of non-white cases accepted for assessment has not changed in respect of year of onset (around 6%) for the last 20 years, or year of presentation (around 6-7%) over the last 15 years. There was a tendency for non-white patients to be referred earlier in their illness.

CONCLUSIONS The clinical and background profiles of non-white and white anorectics are generally similar. The numbers arising and presenting have not changed recently. Non-white patients apparently have as ready access as white patients to assessment and treatment by us.