Eating Disorders, Weight Concerns are Common in Older Women, Even Elderly
Study focused on women over 50 but problems also found in women over 75: weight or shape negatively impact their life
June 10, 2012 - 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% report binge eating, nearly 8% report purging, and more
than 70% are trying to lose weight.
The researchers, led by Dr Cynthia Bulik, Director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, reached
1,849 women from across the USA 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, while 92% were white. More than a quarter, 27%, were obese, 29% were
overweight, 42% were normal weight and 2% were underweight.
Results revealed that eating disorder symptoms were common. About 8% of women reported purging in the last five years and
3.5% reported binge eating in the last month. These behaviors were most prevalent in women in their early 50s, but also occurred in women over
When it came to weight issues, 36% of the women reported spending at least half their time in the last five years
dieting, 41% checked their body daily and 40% weighed themselves a couple of times a week or more.
62% of women claimed that their weight or shape negatively impacted their life, 79% said that it affected their
self-perception and 64% 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%),
excessive exercise (7%), diuretics (2.5%), laxatives (2%) and vomiting (1%).
Two-thirds, 66%, were unhappy with their overall appearance and this was highest when it came to their stomach, 84%, and
“The bottom line is that eating disorders and weight and shape concerns don't discriminate on the basis of age,”
“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.”
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