Eating disorders 'affecting middle-aged women'

Rising number of middle-aged women are ‘battling anorexia and bulimia’, new figures warn.

With a mortality rate higher than any other mental illness, including depression, eating disorder awareness ought to pervade society and the medical community alike.

It was traditionally thought that eating disorders were most common among the young, but new research from University College London suggests around three per cent of women in their 40s and 50s have a recent eating problem.

In contrast, around one in 100 women between 15 and 30 have been diagnosed with an eating condition, such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, although many more may be suffering in silence.

"Our study shows that eating disorders are not just confined to earlier decades of life, and that both chronic and new onset disorders are apparent in mid-life,” said lead author Dr Nadia Micali, from UCL and the Department of Psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

“Many of the women who took part in this study told us this was the first time they had ever spoken about their eating difficulties, so we need to understand why many women did not seek help.

To prove this, researchers from University College London studied over 5,000 women in the UK and found 3 per cent were found to have an active eating disorder in their 40s or 50s, a figure higher than previously thought.

During their research, they found 15.3 per cent of women in the study said they had an eating disorder at some point in their life and 3.6 per cent said they had one over the past year. Less than 30 per cent of those who said they had eating disorders said they had sought help.

Researchers also assessed factors that could be associated with the onset of an eating disorder such as childhood happiness, parental divorce, life events, relationship with parents and sexual abuse.

“Stereotypically, the world sees people with eating disorders as young. 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 a full and fast recovery is vastly improved when treatment is found quickly,” Director of External Affairs Tom Quinn said.

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