June 21, 2012 -- Eating disorders don't just strike teens. A new survey shows that middle-aged women binge, purge, and engage in extreme exercise and dieting about as often as adolescents do.
"Strikingly, things are as bad in this age group as they are in the younger age groups. I was sort of gobsmacked that 8% reported purging in the last five years," says researcher Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, in Chapel Hill.
Additionally, Bulik says, 3.5% of women older than 50 reported binge eating within the last month, a percentage that is "spot on for the younger population."
Sixty-two percent of the nearly 1,900 women who participated in the Internet-based survey said their weight or shape negatively impacted their life. "That's really sad," Bulik says.
Experts who were not involved in the research said the study is valuable because it supports earlier work suggesting that eating disorders are a problem across the lifespan.
"Very little work has been conducted to understand eating pathology in older women who may have unique needs in relation to developing and maintaining a healthy body image and healthy approach to weight regulation," Pamela Keel, PhD, a professor and clinical psychologist who specializes in treating eating disorders at Florida State University in Tallahassee, says in an email to WebMD.
The study is published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.