Eating disorders: Reevaluating the disease

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The onset of eating disorders “usually” comes in the late teens or early twenties; however, this does not mean that eating disorders automatically dissipate thereafter. According to patient stats from eating disorder clinics across the US, older women are increasingly seeking help with eating disorders as well. According to Park Nicollet Health Services, an eating disorder clinic in the suburbs of St. Louis, during the first six months of this year they saw nearly 500 patients 38 and older; in 2003, the same clinic saw 43 patients over the age of 38 for eating disorders. There are many speculations about why the typical age for treatment of eating disorder patients is rising. Baby boomers are getting older, an image conscious crowd bombarded by “perfect” body images in the media. Another possible reason is an increased awareness about eating disorders. One thing is certain; just because eating disorders develop in late teens and early twenties does not mean that they are no longer an issue after the age of thirty. For many women, struggling with an eating disorder is a life-time event. For others, eating disorders resurface due to mid-life crisis, marital issues, family death, etc. The good news is that there are a growing number of eating disorder clinics which are gearing their services toward accommodating more mature patients with eating disorders. The following is an excerpt from an CNN article that discusses this phenomenon:

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (AP) — Kelli Smith was nervous as she walked into the treatment center, seeking help at last for her anorexia. Looking around at the other patients, she was struck by how young they seemed. “I just kind of looked around and I thought, ‘Oh, where is someone my age?”‘ recalls Smith. At age 31, she found herself face-to-face with teenagers and 20-somethings.

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia have long been considered diseases of the young, but experts say in recent years more women have been seeking help in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and older. Some treatment centers are creating special programs for these more mature patients.

Most of the women in this age group who seek treatment have had the problem for years, said Dr. Donald McAlpine, director of an eating disorders clinic at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “The epidemiology is pretty clear that anorexia and bulimia both peak in the late teens, early 20s,” yet “a lot of (patients) continue to be symptomatic right on through to middle life.”

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