U of M study shows teen body dissatisfaction predicts use of behaviors that can lead to poor health

August 09, 2006

Adolescents who feel dissatisfied with their bodies are at higher risk for future binge eating, smoking, poor eating, and decreased physical activity, according to new research from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

A study published in the August 2006 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health found lower levels of body satisfaction among teenagers can predict the use of unhealthy weight control behaviors, which can lead to weight gain and poorer overall health.

Teenage girls who weren't satisfied with their bodies were more likely to binge eat, participate in less physical activity, eat less fruits and vegetables, take diet pills, and induce vomiting five years later. Adolescent boys with low body satisfaction were also more prone to these unhealthy habits and more likely to start smoking in the future. In contrast, teenagers with a positive body image were more likely to take care of themselves through healthy eating and exercise.

"This study shows that teens who have negative feelings about their bodies don't turn to healthy weight management," said Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., lead author and professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. "Instead, they use weight control behaviors that put them at a higher risk for obesity and poor health down the road. With this in mind, interventions with teens should strive to boost self-confidence so they will want to take care of themselves the right way."

Researchers conducted a longitudinal study of over 2,000 adolescents to examine changes in eating patterns and weight status after five years. Subjects completed two Project EAT: Eating Among Teens surveys - one in 1999 and one in 2004 - to determine if those who reported low body satisfaction are at an increased risk for obesity and eating disorders.

Project EAT: Eating Among Teens was designed to investigate the factors influencing eating habits of adolescents, to determine if youth are meeting national dietary recommendations, and to explore dieting and physical activity patterns among youth. The project strives to build a greater understanding of the socio-environmental, personal, and behavioral factors associated with diet and weight-related behavior during adolescence so more effective nutrition interventions can be developed.
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Neumark-Sztainer is the author of the book, "I'm, Like, So Fat! Helping Your Teen Make Healthy Choices About Eating and Exercise in a Weight-Obsessed World." Her book informs parents about strategies for helping their children achieve a positive body image and a healthy body weight in a world that works against both.

University of Minnesota

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