Eating disorders are commonly seen as an issue faced by teenagers and young women, but a new study reveals that age is no barrier to disordered eating. In women aged 50 and over, 3.5 percent report binge eating, nearly 8 percent report purging, and more than 70 percent are trying to lose weight. The study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders revealed that 62 percent of women claimed that their weight or shape negatively impacted on their life.
The researchers, led by Cynthia Bulik, PhD, director of the Eating Disorders Program in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, reached 1,849 women from across the U.S. participating in the Gender and Body Image Study (GABI) with a survey titled, ‘Body Image in Women 50 and Over – Tell Us What You Think and Feel.’
“We know very little about how women aged 50 and above feel about their bodies,” said Bulik. “An unfortunate assumption is that they ‘grow out of’ body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, but no one has really bothered to ask. Since most research focuses on younger women our goal was to capture the concerns of women in this age range to inform future research and service planning.”
The average age of the participants was 59, with about 92 percent white. More than a quarter (27 percent) were obese, 29 percent were overweight, 42 percent were normal weight and 2 percent were underweight.
About 8 percent of women reported purging in the last five years and 3.5 percent reported binge eating in the last month.
Results revealed that eating disorder symptoms were common. About 8 percent of women reported purging in the last five years and 3.5 percent reported binge eating in the last month. These behaviors were most prevalent in women in their early 50s, but also occurred in women over 75.
When it came to weight issues about 36 percent of the women reported spending at least half their time in the last five years dieting, 41 percent checked their body daily and 40 percent weighed themselves a couple of times a week or more.
62 percent of women claimed that their weight or shape negatively impacted their life, 79 percent said that it affected their self-perception and 64 percent said that they thought about it daily.
The women reported resorting to a variety of unhealthy methods to change their body, including diet pills (7.5 percent), excessive exercise (7 percent), diuretics (2.5 percent), laxatives (2 percent) and vomiting (1 percent).
Two-thirds, 66 percent, were unhappy with their overall appearance and this was highest when it came to their stomach, 84 percent, and shape 73 percent.
“The bottom line is that eating disorders and weight and shape concerns don’t discriminate on the basis of age,” concluded Bulik. “Health care 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.”