Eating disorder behaviors and weight concerns are common in women over 50

June 21, 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 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders revealed that 62% of women claimed that their weight or shape negatively impacted on their life.

The researchers, led by Dr Cynthia Bulik, Director of the University of North Carolina Program, reached 1,849 from across the USA participating in the Gender and 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 75.

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 shape, 73%.

"The bottom line is that eating disorders and weight and shape concerns don't discriminate on the basis of age," concluded Bulik. "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."

Explore further: Body image not always a drag on women's wellbeing

More information: Danielle Gagne, Ann Von Holle, Kimberly Brownley, Cristin Runfola, Sara Hofmeier, Kateland Branch, Cynthia Bulik, ‘Eating Disorder Symptoms and Weight and Shape Concerns in a Large Web-Based Convenience Sample of Women Ages 50 and Above: Results of the Gender and Body Image Study (GABI)’, International Journal of Eating Disorders, DOI: 10.1002/eat.22030

Related Stories

Body image not always a drag on women's wellbeing

January 31, 2012
Deakin University psychology researchers have found that body image isn't always a negative experience for women.

Recommended for you

Policy and early intervention can curb obesity rates

December 18, 2017
More information and emphasis on dietary lifestyle changes that prevent obesity, and its comorbidities, have not reduced the rise in obesity in U.S. adults and adolescents, according to a recent study in the New England Journal ...

Warning labels can help reduce soda consumption and obesity, new study suggests

December 15, 2017
Labels that warn people about the risks of drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages can lower obesity and overweight prevalence, suggests a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study.

Parents modeling healthy behaviors leads to markedly better outcomes for children

December 13, 2017
When trying to help children lose weight, involving a parent in the treatment makes the entire family healthier, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown.

'Obesity paradox' not found when measuring new cases of cardiovascular disease

December 7, 2017
Although obesity is a well-known risk factor for getting cardiovascular disease, a controversial body of research suggests that obesity may actually be associated with improved survival among people who have cardiovascular ...

Harmful effects of being overweight underestimated

December 1, 2017
The harmful effects of being overweight have been underestimated, according to a new study that analysed body mass index (BMI), health and mortality data in around 60,000 parents and their children, to establish how obesity ...

More than half of US children will have obesity as adults if current trends continue

November 29, 2017
If current trends in child obesity continue, more than 57% of today's children in the U.S. will have obesity at age 35, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.