By Kristin Sidorov
While many body image and weight concerns focus almost exclusively on younger generations, new research suggests that age has nothing to do with it. Older women feel the exact same pressure, and a shocking number of them over 50 suffer from negative body image and eating disorders, too.
A recent study found that 62 percent of women over the age of 50 are seriously affected by their weight in a negative way, and 13 percent have some kind of eating disorder. Those are alarming numbers, especially given that in the world of clinical research, the over-50 crowd is relatively uncharted territory in terms of eating and weight issues.
But researchers say that they’re not entirely surprised by the results. Although the long-term prognosis of most eating disorders are favorable, relapse is common. In addition to our society’s obsession with looking forever young, the stress that can come along with some major life changes that can occur later in middle age and beyond (becoming an empty nester, divorce, loss of a parent or spouse, losing a home or job) can often trigger eating problems.
Breaking the stereotype that weight issues only affect younger women is an important hill to climb. Sure, some older women may be struggling with demons that developed in their younger years, but the data suggests many women only begin to have insecurities after 50—and that’s an important distinction to make. Focusing only on trying to nip this issue in the bud in women’s younger years won’t work.
If anything, these findings expose a need for physicians to focus on weight and eating issues over the course of a patient’s lifetime. Older women struggling with eating disorders are less resilient to the toll the disease takes on the body and as a result can face other dangerous health complications, such as heart, gastrointestinal, bone, and mental problems. Finding self-acceptance can be a lifelong battle. Hopefully now we have the first step in getting help for women of all ages.
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