Rise in eating disorders in older women

Rise in eating disorders in older women

By Catherine Walker

Last week Mental Healthy wrote about the rise in eating disorders in men and now we can reveal that this can also be said about older women.

Stereotypically when anorexia or bulimia are mentioned this conjures up an image of an adolescent girl but an increasing number of middle-aged and older women are suffering from eating disorders.

Information about an Australian study was published by the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Clinic.  This study was among the first to research poor body image and eating disorders in older women. 

Karen Swartz, M.D., Director of Clinical Programs at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine writes:

Investigators surveyed a random sample of 475 women ages 60 – 70 about their eating behaviours, eight history and attitudes towards their bodies.

Around 90% said they felt very moderately fat and 60% reported being dissatisfied with their bodies.

 The majority of women had a body mass index (BMI) of 25, which is considered just slightly overweight and wanted to have a normal weight BMI of 23.  Over 80% of the women made efforts to manage their weight.

4% of the women met the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder.  One had anorexia nervosa, two had bulimia nervosa and 15 had symptoms of an unspecified eating disorder that did not meet the criteria of anorexia or bulimia.

In addition another 4% of the women reported a single symptom of an eating disorder such as using laxatives, diuretics or vomiting to lose weight, or binge eating.

It is thought that some women may actually be experiencing a recurrence of an eating disorder that they suffered from when they were younger.  Other women may have had a continuous eating problem whilst others may have developed the problem for the first time in their later years. 

Useful reading

Anorexia Nervosa: a survival guide for families, friends and suffers by Janet Treasure. Published by Brunner- Routledge

Getting Better Bit(e) by Bit(e): A survival kit for sufferers of Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorders by Janet Treasure & Ulrike Schmidt. Published by Routledge

Further information

For more information on Eating Disorders, please visit:

What are eating disorders?

Eating Disorders - Types of Eating Disorder

Eating Disorders - Treatment

Eating Disorders - Caring for Someone with Eating Disorders 

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