Think of a person with an eating disorder and your first thought will likely be of a college coed. Yet children as young as six and retired seniors are increasingly being treated for eating disorders.

A person of any age, female or male, and of any socioeconomic background can develop an eating disorder, according to speakers at “Disordered Eating Across the Lifespan,” a conference sponsored on April 25, 2013 by Walden Behavioral Care, LLC and Eastern Connecticut Health Network (ECHN) at Maneeley’s Banquet Facility, South Windsor, Conn.

The first speaker, James M. Greenblatt, M.D., Medical Director of Eating Disorder Services, focused on the diagnosis and treatment of children and adolescents with eating disorders, including risk factors for developing eating disorders.

Risk factors may range from genetic factors to environmental factors, according to Dr. Greenblatt. A child’s temperament may even be a risk factor, he said. Ironically, several of the characteristics parents often like to see in their children – harm avoidance, novelty seeking, reward dependence and persistence – are among the risk factors for developing an eating disorder.

Dr. Greenblatt said parents can help by ensuring that their children are not following the “standard American diet,” from which up to 25% of calories come from soft drinks, and by having their children take nutritional supplements, such as vitamins and fish oil tablets.

Eating Disorders in Adult Women
The second speaker, Margo Maine, Ph.D., co-founder of the Maine & Weinstein Specialty Group in West Hartford, spoke about eating disorders in adult women. The fashion industry and society as a whole have embraced thinness as the ideal and have “made obesity an illness,” she said.

According to a study she cited, 75% of American women who are between 25 and 45 years old reported disordered eating and body image dissatisfaction, while 67% were trying to lose weight, even though a majority were at a normal weight.

She cited a separate study of American women over age 50 that found that 79% of respondents said their weight and shape affect their self-image, 41% weigh themselves daily and 36% spent at least half of their time dieting over the past five years. In addition, 13.3% of respondents reported symptoms of eating disorders and 8% were purging food.

She believes the alarming statistics are, in part, a result of cultural influences and that women need to learn to feel comfortable with their weight, even if they are somewhat overweight.

It was the first conference co-sponsored by Walden, one of the country’s leading hospitals for treating eating disorders, and ECHN, a not-for-profit community-based healthcare system, since they opened a clinic in South Windsor last year.