Eating Disorders: Not Only for the Young

When we think about eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, we usually think of young women and teenage girls. Health officials are now looking at an entirely different age group as a growing concern. It turns out, when it comes to eating disorders, all women (and men) are at risk.

Women over 50 are among a growing population who are obsessed with body image and weight control.  Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently conducted an online survey that included 1,849 women ages 50 and older. The average age of the study participants was 59 years old. Most were white with an average BMI of 27.4.

Researchers asked about body image, aging, eating, and weight loss attitudes and behaviors. They also asked about current and past eating disorder symptoms, behaviors affecting body image, and concerns about body weight and shape. Results of the study were reported in the online version of the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Nearly 75 percent of respondents said they were currently attempting to lose weight, and approximately 13 percent reported having at least one current eating disorder symptom. Sixty-two percent said concerns about eating, weight, or body shape occasionally or often had a negative impact on their lives, and 79 percent said weight and body shape had a moderate to "most important" role in self-perception. 41.2 percent checked their body size or shape once or more a day. 40 percent weighed themselves once or more a week and 35.6 percent spent at least half of their time over the past 5 years dieting.

Of those who reported eating disorders:

  • 7.8 percent reported purging
  • 3.5 percent reported binge eating
  • 7.7 percent used laxatives or diuretics
  • 7.5 percent used diet pills
  • 6.8 percent exercised excessively
  • 1.2 percent vomited

Almost 20 percent of participants admitted to intentionally maintaining a low BMI in the past. 

With so much attention focused on the importance of weight management for health and well-being, not to mention our self-image, it's essential to know what's normal and what's excessive about watching your weight. Health experts agree that binging, purging, vomiting, extreme exercise, and use of any medication for purposes other than prescribed and intended are dangerous and require medical attention. People who have eating disorders are at risk for a wide range of serious and potentially fatal health complications including gastric erosion and cardiac distress.

Experts also agree that maintaining a healthy BMI, consuming a well-balanced diet, and getting plenty of exercise are important for every body. If you think your eating habits might be out of control, talk to your doctor to begin receiving guidance about healthier options. 



International Journal of Eating Disorders. "Eating disorder symptoms and weight and shape concerns in a large web-based convenience sample of women ages 50 and above: Results of the gender and body image (GABI) study"

Int J Eat Disord 2012; DOI: 10.1002/eat.22030. Gagne DA, et al. June 21, 2012