UF Study: Single Women At Midlife More Likely To Worry About Weight
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The singles scene isn’t that rosy for thirtysomething women, who are driven more than their married counterparts to cut a slim figure, a new University of Florida study finds.
“As supermodels get thinner, these women are having a harder time living up to the cultural expectations,” said Carrie Murray, who did the research for her master’s thesis in health science education. “Older and middle-age women still care about their bodies, yet they may be facing other problems, such as the loss of self-esteem from a divorce and having to look for another mate.”
In the study, single women between the ages of 30 and 39 scored substantially higher than married women on the “drive-for-thinness” scale, which measures things such as dieting concerns and obsession with weight. It is part of the Eating Disorder Inventory, a widely used self-report measure of eating disorder symptomatology.
Murray, now a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, said she came up with the idea for the study after finding little information about body image among aging women.
“There have been lots of studies on eating disorders and attitudes toward body weight among teens and young adults, but researchers know less about weight satisfaction and dieting habits among middle-age and older women,” she said.
As women age, they experience life changes, such as pregnancy, that move them further away from a cultural ideal that favors increasingly slim models, Murray said.
Those who are single may feel the greatest pressure to be thin because they lack social support, said Robert Weiler, a UF health science education professor who supervised the research.
“Women in married or stable relationships tend to be less preoccupied with physical appearance,” he said. “Perhaps when these relationships are supportive and nurturing, they lead to greater self-acceptance.”
Murray surveyed 115 women between the ages of 18 and 40 at a Gainesville fitness center in April. The study compared three age groups of women: 18 to 29, 30 to 39, and 40 and older.
The measuring instrument used was a modified version of the Eating Disorder Inventory, which consists of 91 questions organized into 11 subscales that include bulimia, body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness.
In other findings, single women and those currently dieting had stronger tendencies to engage in uncontrolled bouts of eating, bulimia and binging, Murray said. This also held true for women 40 and older, she said.
Weiler believes the results demonstrate a need for health education programs tailored to middle-age women that focus on body acceptance.
“We have such programs for younger women on college campuses throughout the United States,” he said. “But more community health promotion programs are needed for older women, who seem to be falling through the cracks.”
Courses or seminars on the subject could even be offered in the workplace or by professional women’s associations, he said.
In addition, more research is needed to determine how eating disorders and other symptoms of weight obsession change for women over their life span, Murray said.
“There’s definitely something to the idea that older women struggle with their weight, although maybe in different ways than younger women,” she said. “Women don’t just stop having these problems as they grow older.”
- Cathy Keen, firstname.lastname@example.org, (352) 392-0186
- Carrie Murray