Q & A: Do Older Women Develop Eating Disorders, Too?

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
November/December 2004 Volume 15, Number 6
©2004 Gürze Books

Q: I know that eating disorders are most common among young women, but do such disorders occur in much-older women as well? (C.N., San Antonio)

A: Disturbed attitudes toward body image and shape apparently don’t fade with age. Results of a recent study at the University Medical Clinic, Innsbruck, Austria, show that women between 60 and 70 years of age have eating behaviors and body image attitudes similar to those of much-younger women.

Dr. Barbara Mangweth and colleagues recently reported results of their study of women in late middle age, at the Eating Disorders Research Society annual meeting in Amsterdam. Dr. Mangweth and her team of researchers contacted 1000 randomly selected women between 60 and 70 years of age, specifically to identify those with disordered eating.

Among the 475 women who responded to the authors’ questionnaires, more than half controlled their weight by restricting eating, and more than 80% of the women used low-fat or “light” products or increased physical activity to control their weight. Six percent reported using laxatives, diuretics, or vomiting to control their weight and shape. Interestingly, nearly two-thirds reported being dissatisfied with their weight and shape. Eight women met DSM-IV criteria for clinical eating disorders: anorexia nervosa (1), bulimia nervosa (2), and binge eating disorder (5).

Other common medical disorders were muscular weakness (27%), rheumatism (21%), depression (16%), and anxiety (7%). The authors reminded clinicians not to overlook the possibility of disordered eating in patients of any age.

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