Nav: Home

Eating disorders are affecting more UK women in their 40s and 50s

January 16, 2017

In a UK study of 5,320 women, 3% were found to have an active eating disorder in mid-life, a figure higher than expected as eating disorders are primarily associated with adolescence or early adulthood. The research was published in the open access journal BMC Medicine.

This is the first time the prevalence of eating disorders has been investigated in a population sample of women in the fourth and fifth decade of life and the researchers were surprised to find that eating disorders affected a significant amount of women aged 40-50 years. Around 15.3% of women in the study reported having an eating disorder at some point in their life and 3.6% reported an eating disorder in the past 12 months. Less than 30% of women who had eating disorders said they had sought help or received treatment.

Dr. Nadia Micali, lead author from the Department of Psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and University College London, London said: "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."

The researchers also assessed factors that may be associated with the onset of an eating disorder including childhood happiness; parental divorce or separation; life events; relationship with parents; and sexual abuse.

Dr. Micali explained: "The early risk factors we assessed were associated with different eating disorders. Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and purging disorder were all associated with childhood unhappiness, and parental separation or divorce during childhood seemed to increase the risk of bulimia, binge eating disorder and atypical anorexia. We also found that death of a carer could increase the likelihood of purging disorder and that sexual abuse during childhood, or a fear of social rejection, was associated with all eating disorders."

In this study a woman's risk of suffering from anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, two of the most common eating disorders in the UK, was increased by 4-10% per unit score of 'unhappiness' if they reported being unhappy during childhood. Higher interpersonal sensitivity - the ability to accurately assess others' feelings - was associated with an increased risk of binge eating by 19% per unit score of 'sensitivity'. A good mother-daughter relationship was associated with a 20% reduced chance of developing bulimia.

The study used data from the Women from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children cohort to assess how many women have or had an eating disorder at some point in their life. Women selected for the study were asked to complete a questionnaire where each eating disorder they had experienced in their life was recorded. Women who reported having ever had any symptoms of eating disorders, and an equal number of women who reported never having symptoms, were interviewed using standardized diagnostic interviews. Women who reported experiencing any eating disorder were asked if they had ever sought and/or received treatment for these.

This study was observational and longitudinal, so it can increase our understanding of possible links between early risk factors and eating disorders, but it cannot show cause and effect.

The data in this study covers the last 40 years and might reflect the past rather than the current lack of clinical awareness of eating disorders in the UK. The sample may also be limited as the cohort was made up of women who were pregnant at a specific point in time and from a defined region of the UK. Further studies are needed to better characterize eating disorders in mid-life and determine the different impact of the various risk factors that lead to mid-life eating disorders compared to those that occur earlier in life.
-end-
Media Contact
Alanna Orpen
Junior Press Officer
BioMed Central
T: +44 (0)20 3192 2054
E: alanna.orpen@biomedcentral.com

Notes to Editors

1. Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of eating disorders amongst women in mid-life: a population-based study of diagnoses and risk factors
Nadia Micali, Maria Martini, Jennifer Thomas et al.
BMC Medicine 2017

During the embargo, please contact Alanna Orpen for a copy of the study.

After the embargo lifts, the article will be available at the journal website here: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-016-0766-4

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

2. With an ethos of transparency and accessibility, BMC Medicine is an open access, open peer-reviewed general medical journal publishing outstanding and influential research in all areas of clinical practice, translational medicine, public health, policy, and general topics of interest to the biomedical research community. As the flagship medical journal of the BMC series, we also publish stimulating debates and reviews as well as unique forum articles and concise tutorials.

3. BioMed Central is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Nature, a major new force in scientific, scholarly, professional and educational publishing, created in May 2015 through the combination of Nature Publishing Group, Palgrave Macmillan, Macmillan Education and Springer Science+Business Media. http://www.biomedcentral.com

BioMed Central

Related Eating Disorders Articles:

Prior eating disorders linked to long-term depression risk for mothers
A history of eating disorders and body image concerns before or during pregnancy are associated with future depressive symptoms among mothers, finds a new UCL-led study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Study of teens with eating disorders compares substance users and non-users
A study of teens in eating disorder outpatient treatment compares long term results and drop-out rates of casual substance (alcohol, tobacco, drugs) users and non-substance users.
Men's porn habits could fuel partners' eating disorders, study suggests
A woman whose boyfriend or husband regularly watches pornography is more likely to report symptoms of an eating disorder, new research suggests.
How common are eating disorders in young children?
The frequency of eating disorder diagnoses was low among US children ages 9 to 10 in an analysis of data from another study.
Prevalence of eating disorders taken from largest sample in the United States
Biological Psychiatry has published a new study revising the outdated estimates of the prevalence of eating disorders in the United States.
More Eating Disorders News and Eating Disorders Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...