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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:

  • 41.2 percent said they checked their body size or shape once or more a day
  • 40 percent weighed themselves once or more a week
  • 35.6 percent said they spent half or more of their time of the past five years on a diet
  • 7.7 percent used laxatives or diuretics
  • 7.5 percent took diet pills
  • 6.8 percent said they exercised excessively

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."

Thursday Quick Hits:

  • 70 is officially the new 65. Fewer than half of U.S. workers will have enough money saved to retire at 65, reports Boston College's Center for Retirement Research. But if those same folks keep working until age 70, most could expect a financially secure retirement. Study author and economist Anthony Webb said the study dispels the notion that we will have to work forever. "You get all these horror stories,'' he said. But while most people can't afford to retire early, "it's not true that they have to work until they are 80."
  • Beatles sidekick dies at 82. British TV star and Tony winner Victor Spinetti is best known to American audiences as the actor who costarred in A Hard Day's Night, Help and Magical Mystery Tour.

Photo: Arne Thaysen/Vetta/Getty Images

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