When you think of a behavioral health client with an eating disorder, what comes to mind?
Most people picture a teenage girl, perhaps a college student in her 20s.
First of all, this image is not entirely inaccurate. More women than men are diagnosed with eating disorders, especially anorexia and binge eating disorder.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that weekly ER visits for eating disorders increased in 2020, 2021, and January 2022 among girls aged 12-17 years. This increased could be attributed to disruptions and isolation from lockdowns during COVID-19.
However, eating disorders can affect men and women of all ages. Behavioral health providers should be aware of this and consider the possibility of eating disorders in males and older adults.
Older adults struggle with eating disorders.
There is less information available on disordered eating in older adults. However, some research indicates it is a bigger problem than previously believed.
One 2012 survey of data from the Gender and Body Image (GABI) study found that 13 percent of women age 50 and older had experienced eating disorder symptoms within the previous five years. Women with a younger age and a higher body-mass index had a greater likelihood of endorsing eating disorder symptoms, behaviors, and concerns about their weight or shape.
Much like their younger counterparts, older adults may develop eating disorders due to significant life changes. Retirement, health changes, increased caretaking responsibilities, and coping with family deaths may all create psychological stressors that increase the risk of disordered eating.
Eating disorders affect men and boys, too.
The National Eating Disorder Association reports that an estimated 10 million men and boys have a diagnosed eating disorder. Men are also almost as likely as women to engage in disordered eating behaviors, such as purging or laxative abuse.
Males represent 25 percent of individuals with anorexia nervosa. However, men with this diagnosis are at a higher risk of dying from the disorder, partly because they often do not receive treatment until much later.
Most treatment centers for eating disorders focus on women. Providers may be less prepared to identify disordered eating behavior in men. For example, men may be more likely to focus on bulking up, rather than slimming down.
Men are also less likely to be open about their experiences, limiting the number of role models for other young men struggling with the disorder. Bodybuilders and competitions for social media clout are also driving disordered eating among young men.
Narrow study populations limit knowledge.
U.S. clinical trials of eating disorders need more diverse participants, according to researchers writing in JAMA Network Open. The authors looked at 21 U.S. studies on eating disorders, finding that 76 percent of the trials only included adults. Four trials allowed older adults (aged 65 years and older), but only one of them actually included them in the study.
Eighty-three percent of all study participants were women. Despite the impact that eating disorders can have on men, males were underrepresented in these trials.
If your behavioral health practice addresses disordered eating, it is crucial to develop a treatment plan appropriate to each unique client. OutcomeTools from BestNotes can help you assess, track, and analyze your clients’ thoughts, symptoms, and behavior to help you make more informed treatment decisions. Reach out to us today to learn more about how we can help you improve your client outcomes.