Eating Disorder Behaviors and Weight Concerns Are Common in Women Over 50
Teenagers and young women are known to struggle with their body image and eating disorders, 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. These behaviors were most prevalent in women in their early 50s, but also occurred in women over 75.
The study, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders revealed that 62 percent of women claimed that their weight or shape negatively affected their lives.
The researchers, led by Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, surveyed 1,849 women from across the United States who were participating in the Gender and Body Image Study (GABI).
“We know very little about how women age 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, while 92 percent were white. More than a quarter, 27 percent, were obese, 29 percent were overweight, 42 percent were normal weight, and 2 percent were underweight.
When it came to weight issues, 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.
Two-thirds, 66 percent, were unhappy with their overall appearance, in particular with 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.
“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.”
Source: Results of the survey, “Body Image in Women 50 and Over—Tell Us What You Think and Feel,”appear in the June 2012 issue of International Journal of Eating Disorders.
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