Eating Disorders in Older Women on the Rise

Statistics can be somewhat ambiguous when it comes to eating disorders. Over the years, there have been countless studies conducted surrounding the prevalence of illnesses such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Although many of these studies convey slightly different findings, one thing is certain: Millions of Americans struggle with eating disorders.

While the majority of eating disorder sufferers are young women and adolescent girls, research has discovered that more and more males — an estimated 10 to 15 percent — are struggling with eating disorders as well. Additionally, incidents of these disorders in older women have been on a steady incline in recent years.

Why the Upward Trend?

New information is surfacing in regard to women in their 40s, 50s and 60s maintaining a negative body image, and as a result, continuing unhealthy eating patterns or developing eating disorders. Recent studies have found that over 60 percent of women 50 years of age and older are acutely concerned about their weight. Roughly 13 percent of these women suffer from some type of eating disorder.

Some older women keep their eating-related struggles hidden for years. Others, after having addressed an eating disorder earlier in life to at least some degree, relapse as they approach middle age. There are of course a variety of other factors that may contribute to the development of eating disorders in middle-aged women. These include a divorce or the loss of a mate where a woman feels she needs to lose weight to regain a level of attractiveness. It’s also not out of the question for a woman to develop an eating disorder for the first time later in life.

Never Too Late to Begin Treatment

Regardless of age or gender, anorexia treatment, bulimia treatment and treatment methods for other eating-related illnesses have evolved throughout the years. The percentage of successful outcomes continues to increase. Treatment for eating disorders usually consists of a combination of nutritional counseling, individual or group therapy, and in many cases, medications.

With the discovery of eating disorders in so many older women, mental health professionals are realizing that life-long care may be required even after a young woman has shown significant signs of recovery. However, those who get help for eating disorders early do have the best chance at long-term recovery.

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This blog is written and published by Lindner Center of HOPE.

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