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The Takeaway: Women Over 50 Struggle With Eating Disorders, Body Image

While anorexia, bulimia and other disordered eating habits disproportionately vex the young, older women (and men) aren’t excluded. A new study found 13 percent of women over 50 currently exhibit at least one core eating disorder symptom.  The most common was “purging” (throwing up food) without binge eating (7.8 percent), followed by binge eating (3.5 percent). Overall, nearly three-quarters of all respondents said they were currently trying to lose weight.

Part of my goal is to make this an issue all doctors need to be aware of regardless of a women’s age,” said study author Cynthia M. Bulik, head of the eating disorders program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Many think eating disorders end at age 25. They exist at every age, we’re finding.”

Bulik and team explored online survey data from older women on body image, aging, weight, weight loss attitudes and eating behavior. The women were mostly white with BMIs in overweight- to obese category (56 percent); about 42 percent were normal weight and less than 2 percent were underweight. Overall:

Of the women who exhibited eating disorder symptoms, some said they had eating disorders when they were younger but others said problems didn’t develop until middle-age or later, triggered by life events or stresses.

“It’s not uncommon for us to get calls from older people looking for help,” William Walters, the help line manager for the National Eating Disorders Association, said to USA Today. Some older disordered eaters may be reluctant to come forward because of the stigma, he said, but there are resources to help if they do.

A recent UK survey found older British men and women also increasingly struggling with eating disorders. Jane Smith, part of the nonprofit that conducted the study, said they see older men whose eating disorders are triggered by retirement or divorce. “They too are bombarded with images of models, footballers and film stars and they stop eating properly in just the same way as teenage girls.”

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