Stressful experiences during childhood such as divorce may make women more likely to develop eating disorders later in the life, a new study suggests.
In a survey of over 5,300 British women, more than 15 per cent of those between 40 and 50 claimed to have suffered from an eating disorder at some stage in their lives while almost four per cent said they had done at some point in the last 12 months.
Dr Nadia Micali of University College London was the lead author of the study. She said that factors such as “childhood unhappiness, and parental separation or divorce during childhood” were all associated with higher instances of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. By contrast, a good relationship between girls and their mothers reduced the chances of such illnesses by as much as 20 per cent.
However childhood trauma was not the only reason that middle-aged women developed problems, Micali explained. Emotional upheavals during adulthood can have the same effect. She said:
“Eating disorders can be set off by one of a number of traumatic events – and divorce is certainly a stressful experience.”
Only three out of every ten older women with eating disorders admitted they were seeking treatment for the condition. This means that most “are suffering in silence, possibly because they do not realise many other women are in the same boat” Micalie suggested. She added that he hoped publication of this information would increase the likelihood that middle-aged women would seek help.
The study was published in the academic journal BMC Medicine.
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