Approximately 3% of women in their 40s and 50s struggle with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, research published in BMC Medicine has found.
The researchers surveyed 5658 women in their fourth and fifth decades, finding that 15.3% met the criteria for having an eating disorder, while 3.6% reported the condition in the last 12 months. The researchers also noted that childhood sexual abuse was prospectively associated with all eating disorders, while better maternal care reduced the risk of a daughter developing bulimia. They also highlighted the importance of awareness of eating disorders in middle-age, as many women do not access healthcare, and there is little in the way of specialist treatment.
‘The evidence that lifetime and active eating disorders are common amongst women in mid-life, compounded by the lack of healthcare access and treatment, highlights the likelihood of high disease burden and unmet needs,’ they commented.
Beat, the eating disorder, charity has called for greater research into the area, stating that 15% of their requests for help and support came from women aged over 40.
‘Stereotypically, the world sees people with eating disorders as young,’ said Tom Quinn, Beat’s director of external affairs. ‘When we reinforce stereotypes we also add to the stigma of these serious mental health illnesses and this stigma can prevent individuals coming forward to seek help – a dangerous path to take when the chance of full and fast recovery is vastly improved when treatment is found quickly.’