Eating Disorders Common Among Older Women

Study proves eating disorders aren’t limited to adolescent and young adult women.

When we think of eating disorders, most of us picture them as being a problem for teenaged and young adult women. The truth is that a vast majority of those suffering from eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia are younger—the mortality rate for anorexics is 12 times higher for females between the ages of 15 and 24, and 86% of people with eating disorders report the beginning of the disorder before the age of 20. It’s estimated that 2-3% of American women suffer from bulimia, and 0.5% suffer from anorexia.

But that’s in the U.S. only. According to a new study out of the UK, eating disorders are becoming a problem for women between the ages of 40 and 50 as well. A team of researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and University College London found that eating disorders affect a staggering 3% of women between the ages of 40 and 50.

More than 15% of the 5,320 women surveyed said that they suffered eating disorders at some point in their lives, and almost 4% claimed that the eating disorder had affected them during the 12 months previous to the study. But here’s the real problem: fewer than 30% of the women said that they’d ever sought help for their disorder.

This study proves that eating disorders aren’t just limited to adolescent and young adult women. If anything, it’s a problem that can become more serious as we grow older. The National Eating Disorder Association, (NEDA), estimates that as many as 10% of women will die within ten years of developing the disorder. That number rises to 20% by the 20-year mark.

Younger women may be the most at-risk for developing eating disorders, but they can become much more serious as they get older. The mortality rates are significantly higher among anorexics and bulimics in their 40s and 50s, the years when proper nutrition is so important. The fact that so many people with eating disorders aren’t seeking help for their problem means the health problems become much more serious with age.

It’s vital for parents and friends to understand how to prevent and treat eating disorders, but also to understand what brings them on. Only by being fully educated will you know how to help your loved one with an eating disorder to cope and recover.


1. Nadia Micali, Maria G. Martini, Jennifer J. Thomas, Kamryn T. Eddy, Radha Kothari, Ellie Russell, Cynthia M. Bulik and Janet Treasure, Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of eating disorders amongst women in mid-life: a population-based study of diagnoses and risk factors,BMC Medicine, doi: 10.1186/s12916-016-0766-4, published 17 January 2017.

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