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Growing Number of Older Woman Struggling with Eating Disorders

Update Date: Jun 25, 2012 11:06 AM EDT

It is not only teens and young women who are struggling with eating disorders. A new study found that the problems are very common even among middle-aged and older women.

62% of women over age 50 think their weight or shape has a negative impact on their lives and 13% have eating disorders - including purging, binge eating, excessive dieting and excessive exercising, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina.

"The disorders have serious physical as well as emotional consequences," lead author Cindy Bulik, director of UNC's Eating Disorders Program, was quoted as saying by USA Today. "Part of my goal is to make this an issue all doctors need to be aware of regardless of a women's age. Many think eating disorders end at age 25. They exist at every age, we're finding."

The researchers had 1,849 women from across the country participate in the Gender and Body Image Study (GABI) with a survey titled, "Body Image in Women 50 and Over - Tell Us What You Think and Feel." The questions asked women about eating, aging, body image and their weight-loss attitudes and behaviors. 

Participants' average age was 59 and 56% of them were obese or overweight, 42% were normal weight and 2% were underweight.

79% of women reported their weight or shape affected their self-perception and 64% said they thought about their weight or shape daily.

41% checked their body daily and 40% weighed themselves a couple of times a week or more. 

More than 70% said they were trying to lose weight and 36% of women spent at least half their time in the last five years dieting.

3.5% of women reported binge eating in the last month, and 8% reported purging in the last five years.

Women turned to several other unhealthy methods to drop pounds, including diet pills (7.5%), excessive exercise (7%), diuretics (2.5%), laxatives (2%) and vomiting (1%).

While some women in the study had lived with abnormal eating behaviors and attitudes their entire lives, the problems did not develop in others until they got older.

For some middle-aged women, major life changes could have triggered eating problems. The women surveyed talked about divorce, loss of a spouse, children leaving home, children coming back home, and loss of a job.

Another driving force is today's obsessive cultural pressure to look forever young. 

The study was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

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