Eating Disorders Not Limited to Youth

Eating disorder behaviors occur commonly among women over age 50

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) When people think of eating disorders, they often think of young girls starving themselves to look like the women in fashion magazines. But older women suffer from these conditions as well.

A recent study has found that concern about weight and eating disorder problems are not uncommon among women in their 50s and older.

"Seek a therapist's help if you find yourself unable to eat or purging."

Cynthia Bulik, PhD, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, surveyed 1,849 US women, with an average age of 59, who were enrolled in the Gender and Body Image Study.

The majority of those surveyed, 92 percent, were white. Forty-two percent were normal weight, 27 percent were obese and 29 percent were overweight.

While 66 percent of the women said they were unhappy with their overall appearance, the numbers were higher for dissatisfaction with their stomach (84 percent) and their shape (73 percent).

Bulik found that binging and purging - both symptoms of eating disorders - occurred among a number of the women in the previous month. The younger women in their 50s were more likely to report these behaviors, but even women over 75 reported them as well.

While 3.5 percent reported binge eating in the past month, 8 percent said they had purged in the past month. Though only 1 percent of the women reported vomiting, 2 percent said they had used laxatives.

They had tried a number of other unhealthy ways to lose weight as well, including 7.5 percent who used diet pills, 7 percent who excessively exercised and 2.5 percent who used diuretics.

Even among the women who did not report these behaviors, concerns about their bodies weighed heavily on their minds. Sixty-two percent of the women said their weight or their shape negatively affected their lives.

Further, 79 percent said their weight affected their self-perception, 64 percent said they thought about their weight daily, 41 percent checked their body daily and 40 percent weighed themselves at least a couple of times each week.

"We know very little about how women aged 50 and above feel about their bodies," Bulik said. "An unfortunate assumption is that they 'grow out of' body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, but no one has really bothered to ask."

She said the results of the study reveal that eating disorders and concerns about weight affect people of all ages.

"Healthcare providers should remain alert for eating disorder symptoms and weight and shape concerns that may adversely influence women's physical and psychological wellbeing as they mature," she said.

The study was published June 21 in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 20, 2012
Last Updated:
October 25, 2012