The “Childhood” Disease That Affects Seniors Too

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Healthy ObesityEating disorders are a group of abnormal behaviors which can take several forms. The most serious of these mental disorders is anorexia. This disease continues to be a leading cause of death in young women. However, bulimia and binge eating disorders may be much more common throughout the population.

Since February is Eating Disorder Month, it is quite important that every attempt is made to raise awareness regarding this very secretive disease that lurks in the shadows.

Binge eating is the most common form of eating disorder and affects approximately three percent of the entire U.S. population at any given time. This condition is associated with recurrent episodes of uncontrolled eating for short periods of time combined with feelings of anxiety and loss of control. Binge eating episodes are often repeated at least once per week for at least three months before a diagnosis is considered. However, almost 60% of those who suffer from this illness never receive treatment. Binge eating affects people of all ages, genders, and races. Much like the eating disorder bulimia, binge eating may not necessarily be reflected in weight gain and very frequently depression and social isolation are also associated with this disorder.

During this month, increased awareness should be focused on the fact that eating disorders are affecting an older subset of our population.  Recent research evidence has indicated that there is an increasing trend for women in their mid to late adulthood that require treatment for eating disorders. In addition, new evidence is revealing the fact that eating disorders are not just a mental condition typical of Western, affluent society. More evidence has revealed that the prevalence of eating disorders is increasing throughout the world extending into the immigrant demographic and non-Caucasian groups.

A recent study published in 2013 looked at a population of 2,870 adults over the age of 50. Over a 12-month period, the average prevalence of eating disorders was almost three percent. Those experiencing the eating disorder were more likely to be suffering from stressful life events, anxiety, and panic attacks, or be struggling with chronic diseases like obesity or cancer.

This new research evidence needs to be used to expand the older definitions of this mental illness and how it has affected all members of our society, even our senior population. As our society continues to age, there will be more adults who are over the age of 60 diagnosed with an eating disorder.

During the month of February, awareness needs to be propagated to health care providers and health promotion agencies that these mental health conditions are underreported and largely misunderstood because of the previous assumptions that have been made. Most of those affected suffer in silence.

For more information regarding eating disorders, please contact the National Eating Disorder Association or your professional health care provider.

National Eating Disorder Association web site;
Pike, K.M., et al., “Expanding the boundaries: reconfiguring the demographics of the “typical” eating disordered patient,” Curr Psychiatry Rep. November 2013; 15(11): 411.
Ng, I.S., et al., “Correlates of eating disorder in middle-aged and older adults: evidence from 2007 British National Psychiatric Morbidity Survey,” J Aging Health. October 2013; 25(7): 1,106-20.