Women Over 50 Plagued By Eating Disorders, Body-Image Issues

In a new study, almost two-thirds of women over 50 surveyed across the U.S. reported that their weight or shape negatively impacted their lives. This is concerning not only for their own well-being, but also for its impact on their kids.

Today’s dieting young women plagued with body-image concerns aren’t necessarily likely to grow out of them when they get a little older, have kids, retire — just you know, age — according to new research. A study from the International Journal of Eating Disorders shows that women over the age of 50 commonly struggle with body image and eating issues. Researchers from the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, led by Dr. Cynthia Bulik, found that 62 percent of 1,849 women aged 50 and older surveyed across the U.S. said their weight or shape had a negative impact on their lives (the average age of respondents was 59). Other statistics from the study:

• 3.5 percent of study participants reported binging.
• 8 percent claimed to have purged.
• More than 70 percent said they were attempting to lose weight.
• 7.5 percent said they were taking diet pills to lose weight; 7 percent reported engaging in excessive exercise to slim down; 2.5 percent said they took diuretics; 2 percent said they used laxatives; 1 percent admitted to vomiting.
• 66 percent reported feeling unhappy with their overall appearance, while 84 percent were dissatisfied with their stomachs.

Bulik told Time many of the women surveyed developed eating disorders after the age of 50, and that they’re often triggered by major life events like divorce, losing a spouse or a job, or becoming empty-nesters.

The trend is concerning not only for women over 50 — who are assaulted daily with reminders of how bad it is to age like a normal person — but their kids. Research shows that moms who are unsatisfied with their bodies can easily pass those insecurities on to their daughters. One highly publicized example of this is Dara-Lynn Weiss, Vogue’s infamous Diet Mom, who forced her daughter to lose weight through a Weight Watchers-esque program after a doctor decreed the 7-year-old girl clinically obese. In the article, Weiss admitted dissatisfaction with her own figure.

A mother who expresses concern about her own not-thin-enough body — or openly admires a “neighbor with the long, thin legs,” for example — sends the message to her kids that physically looking a certain way is what’s valued and praise-worthy. Even little comments like “I feel so fat” that seemingly have nothing to do with one’s child can seep into a young girl’s psyche and influence her own body image, a body image expert explained to me when I was researching the effects parenting like Weiss’s can have on kids.

So overall, no matter what age we are, we could all afford to feel a little better about ourselves. It would be nice if more of the youth- and thin-obsessed women’s media out there made more room for that.

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