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Older Women Continue to Struggle with Disordered Eating and Body Image Problems

Although we may think eating disorders are a young person’s problem, new research out of The University of North Carolina demonstrates that even after 50, women are still very prone to disordered eating and body image problems.

Do eating disorders really affect many older people?

Although we tend to think of eating disorder victims as predominantly girls and young women in their teens and early twenties, researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine say this just isn’t so – saying that women continue to suffer from body image issues and eating disorders well into late adulthood.

The Study

The researchers used a gender and body image survey study to ask 1850 women over the age of 50 about their weight related thoughts and behaviors.

The Findings

The researchers say that among the American women over 50 surveyed:

  • 70% were trying to lose weight and 2 in 3 were unhappy with their current size and weight
  • 79% said their weight affected their sense of self worth
  • 64% thought about their weight daily
  • 41% weighed themselves daily and 40% weighed themselves at least a few times per week
  • 7.5% were using diet pills
  • 7% acknowledged using excessive exercise for weight control
  • 2.5% were using diuretics and a further 2% were using laxatives to control weight
  • 1% were vomiting to control weight


Striving to explain why negative body image thoughts and behaviors continue to affect older women, lead researcher Cynthia Bulik, PhD noted that “there is such pressure on older women to look younger, to not look like they are becoming older. Everything is about looking younger, trying to stay thin and attractive, whether that means surgery or cosmetics, or whatever, the pressure to not age is so strong. And that leads them down the path of unhealthy eating and dieting behaviors…The bottom line is that eating disorders and weight and shape concerns don't discriminate on the basis of age.”

The full research findings can be found in International Journal of Eating Disorders.

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