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Study suggests eating disorders can arise due to body dissatisfaction at any age

by Pragati Singh
over eating

Adolescents and young adults are stereotypically connected with eating problems. However, growing data shows that these problems can arise at any stage during a woman’s life, including midlife.

According to a new study, body dissatisfaction is a significant cause of eating disorders, particularly during perimenopause. The findings of the study were published today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). Eating disorders are significant mental health diseases marked by changes in eating behaviour and body image that affect roughly 13.1% of women during their lives.

The prevalence of any eating disorder specifically for women aged older than 40 years is roughly 3.5 per cent, with specific symptoms such as dissatisfaction with eating patterns being documented as high as 29.3 per cent.
Serious complications such as high mortality and morbidity are associated with eating disorders. These adverse health events are likely to be magnified when present at older ages. However, few studies on eating disorders have included participants at midlife, including premenopause, perimenopause, and postmenopause.

There is some evidence to suggest that perimenopausal women have the highest rates of dysregulated eating behaviours (eg, weight-control behaviours such as regular calorie counting or diet food consumption) of any reproductive stage at midlife and are significantly different from premenopausal women in terms of body dissatisfaction and feelings of fatness. Although such studies are few, the link between eating disorders and perimenopausal symptoms (e.g., negative mood, melancholy, and exhaustion) confirms that perimenopause may be a particularly vulnerable phase for eating pathology.

The researchers used network analysis statistical models to compare the structure and importance of specific eating disorder symptoms across reproductive stages in this new small study, which sought to investigate the structure of eating disorder symptoms specifically during perimenopause and early postmenopause. Although the researchers concede that bigger studies with this underrepresented female demographic are needed, they feel that the data demonstrates that body image dissatisfaction is a critical risk factor for eating disorders across the lifetime, particularly in midlife.

Study results are published in the article “Network analysis of eating disorder symptoms in women in perimenopause and early postmenopause.”

This study shows that similar to studies in young adults, dissatisfaction with body image remains a core feature of eating disorder pathology in midlife women. Specifically, fear of gaining weight and fear of losing control over eating habits are central symptoms of eating disorders in perimenopause and early postmenopause. These findings may help direct more targeted treatment strategies in women during midlife,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director.

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