Eating disorders affect women older than 50 just as much as they affect younger women, a new study found, despite the common perception that eating disorders are only prevalent among youth, according to new research.
The researchers conducted an online survey of 1,849 women whose average age was 59, and found that 62 percent said their weight and shape negatively affected their life. In the survey, 3.5 percent reported binge eating in the last month, 8 percent reported purging in the last five years, and 70 percent said they were trying to lose weight.
“Eating disorders and weight and shape concerns don't discriminate on the basis of age," said lead researcher Cynthia Bulik, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program. "Healthcare providers should remain alert for eating disorder symptoms and weight and shape concerns that may adversely influence women's physical and psychological wellbeing as they mature."
Of the respondents, 36 percent said they had dieted for at least half of the past five years, while 41 percent checked their weight daily. Fewer than half of the women (42 percent)were normal weight, while 27 percent were obese and 29 percent were overweight. Two percent were underweight.
Most women were unhappy with their shape (73 percent) or stomach (84 percent), and 66 percent were unhappy with their appearance overall. Weight or shape negatively affected the lives of 62 percent of women, with 64 percent thinking about it daily.
In trying to modify their body weights, 7.5 percent reported using diet pills, 7 percent had exercised excessively, 2.5 percent used diuretics, 2 percent laxatives and 1 percent vomiting.
"An unfortunate assumption is that they 'grow out of' body dissatisfaction and eating disorders,” Bulik said.
Unhealthy eating behaviors like binging and purging were more common in women in their 50s than in older women surveyed, but also occurred in women over 75. Unhealthy habits were also more common in women with higher body mass indexes.
Of the participants, 92 percent were white, the researchers noted.
The study was published today (June 21) in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
Pass it on: Women over 50 suffer from eating disorders, too.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.