According to a new study, even women in their 60s, are unhappy with their weight and body shape, and a small percentage suffer from full-blown eating disorders.
The Austrian researchers say that although anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders are usually considered to be the domain of mainly young women, there has been some evidence that body-image issues and eating disorders also affect women in middle-age and beyond.
The researchers found that among 475 women 60 to 70 years old, 60 percent said they were dissatisfied with their bodies and 4 percent met the criteria for an eating disorder diagnosis.
The researchers say for most of these women, the diagnosis was "eating disorder-not otherwise specified", where a person has eating disorder symptoms but does not meet all the criteria for anorexia or bulimia.
Such people may, for example, have symptoms of anorexia but weigh in the normal range or they may purge by vomiting or abuse laxatives, but not binge-eat, as in bulimia.
Many will be surprised that older women can also suffer from eating disorders, as even some doctors are largely unaware of the problem.
According to Dr. Barbara Mangweth-Matzek, the study's lead author and a professor at Innsbruck Medical University, that is because there has been little or no research into the body-image and eating disturbances of older women.
Mangweth-Matzek and her colleagues surveyed a random sample of older women regarding their eating habits, body image and any eating disorder symptoms and found that overall, more than 60 percent of the women were at least somewhat dissatisfied with their bodies, including more than one-third who were in the normal weight range.
Almost 90 percent of the women said they "felt" fat to some degree.
Mangweth-Matzek says the findings support the idea that once a woman wants to attain a slim ideal that feeling doesn't go away with age, and even as we grow older,"ideals, wishes, preferences stay the same."
For 18 women in the study, roughly 4 percent, the distortions in body image and eating habits were severe enough to signal an eating disorder.
Another 4 percent had a single eating disorder symptom, most often binge-eating or use of laxatives or diuretics to lose weight.
Mangweth-Matzek says spotting such a disorder in older women can be challenging, as appetite changes and weight loss can arise from various illnesses common among older adults.
She says more research is needed to understand the true prevalence of the problem, and how to address it.
The findings of the research are published in the November issue of International Journal of Eating Disorders.