Eating Disorders Increasingly Common In Women Over 50

You might think eating disorders are a condition limited to the young, but the truth is they affect people of all races, sexes, ages, and nationalities. In fact, medical professionals and researchers are identifying a growing number of women over the age of 50 with eating disorders in past years.

Woman Washing ProduceAn online survey conducted as part of the Gender and Body Image Study (GABI), published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, showed there is no age limitation to disordered eating of all forms, with the results indicating eating disorder symptoms in 13% of women 50 and older over the past five years. Over 70% of women surveyed reported they were currently attempting to lose weight.

The results showed that 62% of women felt their weight or shape were negatively impacting their life.

For the large part, the symptoms of eating disorders at older ages are the same as they are in younger individuals, but they can seem entirely different due to their context. Eating disorders can have a notable impact on a person’s marriage or partnership, their children, their work life, and the lives of those around them.

The treatment can also be different for women over 50 with eating disorders. Younger individuals with eating disorders are often treated with family-based therapy, but this is not always effective for someone at a later stage in life who may not have the same support systems as a younger individual.

The biggest difference between eating disorders in a younger individual and someone at a later age is the impact it has on the body. While eating disorders have severe effects on many biological systems of younger women, in older women it can cause an even greater number of gastrointestinal, cardiac, bone, and even dental effects.

The findings of the survey show the importance of clinicians staying watchful for signs of eating disorders in individuals in all ages, including signs of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or any other novel eating disorder.

Older individuals are less likely to seek support or treatment for eating disorders due to a number of factors including family support, financial stresses, and embarrassment or fear of being told they should have grown out of the disorder. That means it is often up to family or medical professionals to watch for any signs and intervene if they believe an individual is living with an eating disorder.

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