Study: Some Older Women Adopting Unhealthy Eating Behaviors

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I’ve always heard the adage, “You are what you eat.” But what if you have unhealthy eating behaviors? Surprisingly, one of the key findings from a new study out of the University of North Carolina is that women over the age of 50 are resorting to purging, laxatives and binging because they are unhappy with their weight and/or their body shape.


    The study, which is being published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, collected data on more than 1,800 U.S. women who participated in the Gender and Body Image Study. Approximately 27 percent of these women were categorized as obese while 29 percent were overweight. Another 42 percent had a normal weight while 2 percent were underweight.

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    More than 60 percent of the study participants said their weight or physical shape has an impact on their lives. Forty-one percent evaluated their body size or shape daily. Forty-percent weighed themselves twice a week or more. Sixty-one percent described their weight or shape as having a negative impact on their life while 64 percent thought about their weight or body shape daily. Seventy-nine percent of study participants reported that their weight or body shape affected their image of themselves. Sixty-six percent of the participants did not embrace their overall appearance and were most unhappy about their stomach (84 percent) and overall shape (73 percent).


    To deal with these body issues, more than 70 percent reported dieting in order to lose weight. In fact, 36 percent of the study participants spent at least half of the past five years dieting.


    However, there were some other findings that were ominous as far as overall health.  For instance, the researchers found also that four percent of the women reported binge eating while eight percent had purged. Furthermore, about eight percent of women reported purging in the past five years while 3.5 percent said they had binged in the past month. MedLine Plus reported that while most of the women who reported purging were in their early 50s, some were over the age of 75. Other unhealthy ways to lose weight were also commonly reported, including diet pills (7.5 percent), excessive exercise (7 percent0, diuretics (2.5 percent), laxatives (2 percent) and vomiting (1 percent).


    Lead author Dr. Cynthia Bulik who is the director of UNC’s Eating Disorders Program, believes that identifying tailored interventions for women who are over 50 years of age is necessary based on their developmental stage.


    Middle-age women need to realize that there are real dangers involved with some of the actions they’re taking. The National Eating Disorders Association points to research that has found that anorexia nervosa has the highest premature fatality rate of any mental issues. reports that bulimia (purging), approximately 89 percent of people will have signs of tooth erosion, one of the first signs of the condition. “Frequent purging can cause an electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to serious medical problems and, in severe cases, can cause death,” stated.  “Some bulimics purge so frequently that they can vomit at will.”  Bulimics may cause a rupture in the esophagus. Non-purging bulimia, on the other, is created through the use of excessive laxatives that may cause constipation or intestinal problems.


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    While the best way to maintain a healthy weight is through a nutritious diet and regular exercise, I think we as postmenopausal women need to really reevaluate our emphasis on weight. Instead, I think we should all focus on having a sound and healthy body that can help us continue to accomplish all of the things we want to during our lifetime.


    Primary Resources for This Sharepost:

    MedLine Plus. (2012). Eating disorders hitting women over 50, study finds.


    National Eating Disorders Association. (2005). Statistics: Eating disorders and their precursors.


    West, L. F. (2012). 3 ways to understand the dangers of bulimia.

Published On: June 27, 2012