|Eating disorder behaviors and weight concerns are common in women over 50, study finds|
|June 21, 2012|
Eating disorders are commonly seen as an issue faced by teenagers and young women, but a new study found that age is no barrier to disordered eating. In women ages 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 believed their weight or shape had negative impact on their lives.
The researchers, led by Cynthia Bulik, PhD, professor of nutrition in UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the Eating Disorders Program in the UNC School of Medicine, reached 1,849 women from across the United States who participated 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 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, and about 92 percent were white. More than one-quarter (27 percent) were obese, 29 percent were overweight, 42 percent were normal weight and 2 percent were underweight.
Results revealed that eating disorder symptoms were common. About 8 percent of women reported purging within the past five years, and 3.5 percent reported binge eating within the past month. These behaviors were most prevalent in women in their early 50s, but also occurred in women over 75.
As to weight issues, about 36 percent of the women reported dieting for at least half the time during the past five years, 41 percent checked their bodies daily and 40 percent weighed themselves a couple of times a week or more.
Sixty-two percent of women claimed that their weight or shape had a negative impact upon their lives, 79 percent reported that weight or shape affected self-perception and 64 percent said that they thought about their weight or shape daily.
The women reported resorting to a variety of unhealthy methods to change their bodies, 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. They were particularly unhappy with the appearance of their stomachs (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 well-being as they mature."
Bulik is also Jordan Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders in the School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry.
|Last updated June 21, 2012|