Woman in her sixties thinking

Weight, body image concerns

When you hear about eating disorders, many of us tend to think of teens or young women being affected. However, research tells us that women over the age of 50 are becoming more and more concerned with their body image, and often suffer from different types of eating disorders.

A new study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders revealed that, in women age 50 and over, 3.5 percent report binge eating, nearly 8 percent report purging and more than 70 percent are trying to lose weight. Out of all participants, 62 percent claimed that their weight or shape negatively impacted on their life.

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"Eight percent of the women reported purging in the last five years and 3.5 percent reported binge eating in the last month."

In a study led by Dr. Cynthia Bulik, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, results revealed that eating disorder symptoms were common among the 1,849 participants.

About 8 percent of the 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.

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“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.”

A concern for all ages

About 13 percent of the participants exhibited some form of current eating disorder symptom. The most common were current binge eating, the use of diet pills and excessive exercise.

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“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 well-being as they mature.”

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