Anorexia: It's not just for teens

Most anorexics are in their late teens or early 20s. But that doesn't mean older people don't suffer from the disease, too.


Catherine Price
July 23, 2007 7:45PM (UTC)

Here's an article from the Associated Press about a group of people not normally paid much attention to: older anorexics. Anorexia is usually thought of as a disease affecting young women in their teens and early 20s (which is, for the most part, true), but the AP reports that anorexia is increasingly being seen in women in their 30s, 40s and even 50s.

There are several theories as to what's causing this increase in diagnoses. The first is that, quite simply, we've started paying more attention. Second, some people who have anorexia in their 20s never fully recover, so continue to be symptomatic later in life. And third, there's the ever-present societal pressure to be thin, coupled with an "ageing group of baby boomers." As the AP puts it, "While body image is an issue for any age group, women over 30 are dealing with problems that teens don't have, such as work, divorce, stepchildren and ageing parents."

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As Carol Tappen, director of operations for the Eating Disorders Institute, told the AP, "One day, [a woman] wakes up and the kids are gone and she has a sense that nobody really needs her. She looks in the mirror and she says, 'My body is shot' ... This woman says, 'You know, that's it. I'm going on a diet.'"

Unfortunately, the article's statistics are questionable. (Readers with too much time on their hands can check it out themselves, but basically, the first example compares two statistics -- women age 38 versus women over 38 -- that are apples and oranges, and the second actually shows a decrease between 2005 and 2006.) But it's still clear that there are more anorexics over 30 than most people would expect, and it's important to provide treatment for these people along with their younger peers. After all, if older women feel ashamed for suffering from a condition usually associated with teenagers, they're less likely to seek help.


Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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