American Medical News drew my attention to a recent study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. Among the surprising findings, 62% of women surveyed (all over the age of 50) said that their weight or shape negatively impacted their life, and 13.3% had eating disorders. About 7.5% of respondents admitted to trying diet pills to lose weight, while 2.2% used laxatives, and 1.2% vomited to reduce their weight (aka bulimia).
Eating disorder treatment facilities have noticed a surge in older patients, including one center that experienced a 42% increase in the number of women older than 35 seeking treatment at its clinics nationwide over the past decade.
Healthcare providers should be aware that eating disorders are not just a problem for young women. Women of all ages are now struggling with a rail-thin beauty ideal in a country of rising obesity rates, sedentary lifestyles, and ubiquitous junk food. And for older women with eating disorders, the health risks of osteoporosis, stomach ulcers, and cardiovascular abnormalities are much higher.
Perhaps primary care physicians should include an eating disorder questionnaire in their regular visits with boomers? We may be surprised by the prevalence of this issue, and I bet that many of our patients will be glad we asked.