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Eating Disorders Threaten Older Adults

Older women are increasingly at risk from unhealthy eating habits formed when they were younger.

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Eating disorders in middle-aged women are
thought to be rising fast. Thinkstock

By Ariel Nagi

01/03/12

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When we think of eating disorders, we might think first of teens an adolescents. But new research shows that eating disorders among older adults are on the rise. The Renfrew Center, which runs a bunch of eating disorder clinics in the United States, has seen a 42% increase in middle-aged females seeking help since 2001. (Women remain about ten times more likely to have eating disorders than men, for reasons that are still not fully understood.) Many of these adults have suffered from eating disorders since they were much younger. A University of Minnesota study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association followed 2,287 kids as they grew into young adults and found that more than half of the girls' unhealthy eating habits continued into their mid-to-late 20s. “Some had actual eating disorders [when they were younger]," and “others had aspects of an eating disorder but were never fully treated,” says Dr. Ed Tyson, an eating disorders specialist in Austin, Texas. “Then something happens later in life that stresses them to a point where the eating disorder becomes engaged.” This can be even more dangerous for adults than for adolescents, because increased health issues and chemical imbalances arise as the body ages, making it harder to fight the disorder. “Older bodies do not have the plasticity that younger bodies do,” Tyson explains.

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