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Eating Disorders Common in Older Women, Study Finds

George Doyle/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(CHAPEL HILL, N.C.) -- Eating disorders have no boundaries when it comes to age, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

While people may associate eating disorders with teen girls and young women, there may be a growing number of older people who experience the same struggles.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina surveyed more than 1,800 women 50 and older to see how many had eating disorders and to assess the impact of disordered eating in women who engaged in these practices.  Sixty-two percent of the women reported that their weight negatively impacted their lives, 8 percent reported purging and 70 percent said they were in the process of dieting or trying to lose weight.

This study “really busts the myths that disordered eating is the province of adolescent and young adult women,” said Dr. Cynthia Bulik, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program and lead author of the study.  “We have very little clinical research on mid- and late-life eating disorders.  The most important thing for clinicians is to keep eating disorders on their radar screen regardless of a patient’s age.”

The women reportedly turned to several unhealthy methods of weight loss, including diet pills, diuretics, laxatives, vomiting and excessive exercise.

Whether there is more awareness and diagnoses remains unclear, but researchers said eating disorders can be “common” among women over 50.

The triggers may be different among different age groups, but traumatic life events tend to trigger or contribute to eating disorders, no matter the age, according to experts at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).  When an older person experiences the illness, it is usually because an earlier eating disorder has resurfaced, but not always.  Disorders can be triggered by divorce, death of a loved one or children moving away.

“It can be hard to come forward because some older patients are concerned about the stigma of having a younger person’s disorder, but we know that eating disorders persist into older adulthood, eating disorders relapse during older adulthood and we know that late onset occurs, too,” said William Walters, helpline manager at NEDA.

“Late onset isn’t at all surprising,” he added.  “Midlife can be hard, and just as difficult a transition as the teens and early adulthood, in its own way.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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