HealthDay News — Younger women aren’t the only ones affected by eating disorders. Those aged 50 years and older experience body image problems, too, results of an online survey reveal.

Among the 1,849 women aged 50 years and older that took the survey, 71.2% reported that they were trying to lose weight and approximately 13% reported having at least one eating disorder symptom, Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues found.

“Health care providers should remain alert for eating disorder symptoms and weight and shape concerns that may adversely influence women’s physical and psychological well-being as they mature,” the researchers wrote in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

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The online survey asked questions about eating disorder symptoms and attitudes, as well as weight and shape concerns. Mean respondent age was 59.1 years and 92.1% were white. Mean BMI was 27.4 kg/m2; 29.3% were overweight and 26.9% were obese; 1.6% were underweight.

The researchers found that there was wide endorsement of eating disorder symptoms, dieting, and body checking behaviors, as well as weight and shape concerns. A total of 62% of participants responded that eating, weight or body shape occasionally or often had a negative impact on their lives, and 79.1% classified weight and body shape to playing a moderate to “most important” role in self-perception.

Greater endorsement was seen for women in their early 50s and those with a higher BMI.

Purging in the absence of binge eating was the most common eating disorder symptom at 7.8% among the subset of women who reported having a current eating disorder, followed by binge eating, at 3.5%. Nearly 20% of participants admitted to having intentionally maintained a low BMI in the past. Other maladaptive weight control behaviors included use of laxatives or diuretics (7.7%), use of diet pills (7.5%), excessive exercise (6.8%) and vomiting (1.2%).

“The bottom line is that eating disorders and weight and shape concerns don’t discriminate on the basis of age,” the researchers wrote.

Study limitations include lack of geographic or socioeconomic data for the study population, lack of data on racial and ethnic minorities, the potential for selection bias with Internet-based surveying methods, the self-reported nature of the study data, reliance and potential selection bias associated with Internet-based surveying and missing medical data on other health conditions.

The researchers called for more research to assess self-image concerns and the potential influence these may have on the health of overweight and obese women in “midlife and older adulthood.”

Gagne DA et al. Int J Eat Disord. 2012. doi: 10.1002/eat.22030.