A new study conducted in the United Kingdom suggests that eating disorders are not just something teenagers have to deal with, and could affect women — although a small number — in their 40s and 50s, too.
Over fifteen per cent of the 5,000-odd women who participated in the study reported that they had, at some point in their lives, suffered from an eating disorder. While many expectedly said they first developed either anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder in their teens, 3.6 per cent of them, surprisingly, revealed that they only encountered it in just the last 12 months.
The research, conducted by researchers from UK, US and Swedish institutions and published in the journal BMC Medicine, also studied factors that may be linked with eating disorders, such as sexual abuse, childhood events like parental divorce or the death of a parent, as well as other life events.
The researchers found that a woman’s risk of developing an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia was up by four to 10 per cent per unit score of ‘unhappiness’ if they admitted that she had an unhappy childhood. Similarly, if the woman said that she shared a good relationship with her mother as a child, she was at a 20 per cent lower risk of developing bulimia.
The report concluded that a majority of the women who had an eating disorder in their middle age did not seek help from a medical professional. In fact, according to Dr Nadia Micali, the lead author of the study, several participants told the researchers that this was the first time they were even talking about this issue.
The reason many of these women had trouble seeking help points to the fact that, traditionally, eating disorders are perceived to affect only the young. It is this social stigma and fear of ridicule that keeps those suffering from coming forward, leading to a downward spiral consisting of serious mental health issues.
The aim of the study, says Dr Micali, is to take a deeper look into why women don’t ask for help, and also to raise awareness among doctors about these findings. Finding a treatment as early as possible is the path to a full and quick recovery.