Eating Disorders: More than a Young Person Problem

Andy Peloquin

Personal Training


Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia nervosa affect millions of people in the U.S. alone. The South Carolina Department of Mental Health estimates the number to be around 8 million, but the number could be as high as 10 million according to National Eating Disorders Association. As many as 4.2% of women will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives.


Most of us tend to associate eating disorders with young people. Eating disorders are most common among high school and college students. Up to 40% of football players from a Cornell University study reported binging and purging. Up to 10% of women in college suffer from a near-clinical or clinical eating disorder. Body issues tend to start young.



However, according to a recent study1 published in BMC Central, they're becoming a lot more common among older women as well. The study involved close to 5,700 British women, all of whom were interviewed to determine if they had an eating disorder. The researchers analyzed life styles and habits to see how many women in their 40s and 50s had an eating disorder.


The results were pretty horrific—15.3% of women in their mid-life had suffered an eating disorder for more than 12 months. They met the criteria for a "lifetime eating disorder." 3.6% of women suffered from an eating disorder that lasted for no more than 12 months.


The study also looked at a few of the childhood and personality risk factors associated with eating disorders. Good maternal care helped to reduce instances of eating disorders, but interpersonal sensitivity, childhood life events, childhood sexual abuse, and an external locus of control all contributed to eating disorders.


This is something for everyone—doctors, physicians, parents, and partners/spouses—to take very seriously. Eating disorders are not limited to teenagers, but they are surprisingly common among women in their 40s and 50s. Growing older doesn't make you immune to body issues and eating disorders. Understanding this is the key to reducing the risk factors of your loved ones.


If you know someone who struggles with their eating habits, it's vital that you help them to improve. Be on the lookout for signs of eating disorders, such as purging, binging, barely eating, or trips to the bathroom immediately following meals. Eating disorders can cause a broad range of not just physical disorders, but mental and emotional health problems as well.



1. Micali, Nadia, 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 15 (2017): 12. doi:10.1186/s12916-016-0766-4.

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