17 January 2017

Eating Disorders Among Middle-Aged Women

Many individuals in the UK will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. Generally, people tend to stereotype those with eating disorders as young women, but eating disorders can affect anyone at all, regardless of age or gender. Recent research has found that thousands of middle-aged women in across the country are suffering from these eating disorders, with many more hiding the fact.

Battling Disorders in Silence

New figures have shown that thousands upon thousands of middle-aged women around the UK are suffering from a range of eating disorders including anorexia nervosa and bulimia in an ‘epidemic’ that has been brought on by financial problems, bereavement and divorce, among other things.  Research from the University College London has shown that, although it is believed that eating disorders are more common among young people, around three per cent of women aged between forty and fifty have had an eating disorder in recent years. While one in every 100 women aged between fifteen and thirty has been diagnosed with eating disorders such as anorexia, binge eating and bulimia, many more could be battling these disorders in silence.


Over 5,300 women in their forties and fifties in the UK were included in the study, and researchers discovered that around fifteen per cent had suffered from an eating disorder at one point in their life, with three per cent of these being in the past year. Dr Nadia Micali of UCL and the Department of Psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and lead author of the study, explained, “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. 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. It may be that there are some barriers women perceive in healthcare access or a lack of awareness among healthcare professionals.”

Embarrassed or Anxious

The study also investigated factors that could be associated with an eating disorder. These included life events, childhood happiness, sexual abuse, relationship with parents and parental divorce or separation. The overall risk of a woman suffering from either bulimia or anorexia jumped by around four to ten per cent if they admitted to having an unhappy childhood, while a good relationship between mother and daughters was linked with a twenty per cent reduced chance of developing bulimia. Experts believe that GPs should be informed of these findings in order to help them diagnose issues in middle-aged women who could be embarrassed or anxious to admit that they are suffering from an eating disorder.

Important Figures

Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, Christopher Fairburn, said, “These are really high figures and are important – there really aren’t any other studies of this quality and size looking at this age span, which is why we haven’t seen this before. We also see from this study that very few of these women have had treatment. We knew this for teenagers, but this is the first data we’ve seen across this wide age group. GPs should be on the lookout and women should be told about this so that they can choose to seek help and know that there are treatments that can help them.”


An eating disorder charity has said that the current mind frame of society is that people can simply ‘grow out’ of an eating disorder and that this needs to be addressed. Director of External Affairs at the charity, Tom Quinn, said, “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 full and fast recovery is vastly improved when treatment is found quickly. Last year, 15 per cent of calls to our helpline were about someone over the age of 40, and this research from Dr Micali only goes to further support the importance of providing an appropriate treatment pathway for individuals with eating disorders at all ages.”

Surprising Numbers

Vice Chair of the Faculty of Eating Disorders at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr Agnes Ayton, explained, “The numbers are surprising, as most of the research has focused on adolescents and younger adults. However, they are not entirely unpredictable, as previous population-based studies have also shown that a large proportion of patients with eating disorders don’t seek help.”

Further Information

You may have concerns that a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder and are unsure of the next steps – if so, then contact us here at UKAT. We help those battling eating disorders, and we want nothing more than for the affected individuals we help to overcome their illness and go on to lead a healthy, happy life afterwards. If you would like further information or otherwise have any queries, do not hesitate to get in touch with us today and we would be more than happy to assist in any way that we can.

Source: Study uncovers hidden epidemic of eating disorders in middle-aged women (The Telegraph)

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