Highlights of the September Journal of the American Dietetic Association

August 31, 2004

Dieting Practices among High School Students

A survey of 10th-grade students finds that 60 percent have made conscious efforts to lose weight. In response to the question "Have you ever tried to lose weight?" 36.5 percent of the boys said yes, compared with 73.6 percent of the girls.

The study, conducted by researchers at California State University - Los Angeles, surveyed 146 students at a multiethnic, urban public high school ranging in age from 13 and 15. Of those who had tried various diets, 15 percent said they had attempted dieting by age 11; 84 percent had done so by age 14. Among girls who had tried dieting, 85 percent did so by age 13.

The researchers found more than 40 percent of the students who had tried dieting said they "consciously eat less" than they want to control their weight. Large majorities (74 percent of boys, 62 percent of girls) said they try to eat or purchase foods that are low in fat. Other common dieting practices include limiting portion sizes and counting calories.

"Approximately 44 percent of the students who have a dieting history reported using meal skipping to control their weight. However, research does not support meal skipping to be effective for weight loss," the researchers write.

"To many teens, looks are everything," said registered dietitian and ADA Spokesperson Cynthia Sass. "As their bodies develop, it's normal for high-schoolers to focus on their body image. But many teens have unrealistic notions about their own weight - many more teens believe they are overweight than actually are. Unless a doctor advises it, the teen years are not a time for a weight-loss diet.

"Parents, teachers, health professionals and other adult role models can help adolescents and teens with their weight issues. The best approach is positive - no nagging, forbidden foods or criticism. Understanding, love and support go a long way in helping teens and children cope with weight issues," Sass says.

Do Calcium-Rich Diets Make a Difference for Girls' Weight?

Compared with girls who maintain their usual diets, 9-year-old girls who eat a diet rich in calcium (at least 1,500 milligrams per day) also significantly increase their intake of other essential nutrients, according to a pilot study of 59 girls conducted by researchers at Creighton University. The researchers were trying to determine whether the two groups differed in weight gain.

At least 40 percent of the body's bone mass is formed during adolescence, meaning a lack of calcium during childhood may interfere with growth. Severe deficiencies may keep children from reaching their potential adult height, and even mild deficiencies over a lifetime can affect bone density and bone loss. That in turn increases a person's risk for osteoporosis. Average calcium intake for girls 9 to 13 years old is 69 percent of the recommended level and only 55 percent for girls ages 14 to 18.

The study found that the girls who followed a calcium-rich diet, including dairy foods and calcium-fortified foods, did not experience greater increases in body weight or body mass index compared with girls on their usual diet.

According to the researchers, girls who consumed the calcium-rich diet "significantly improved their overall nutritional intake" during the two-year study, increasing their consumption of protein, vitamins A and D, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium, in addition to calcium. The girls on their usual diets increased their consumption only of iron and zinc.

"These findings along with emerging evidence regarding dietary calcium and weight in adults can be used to assure children, parents, health professionals, and policymakers that calcium-rich diets do not increase the risk of excessive weight gain," according to the researchers.
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The Journal of the American Dietetic Association is the official research publication of the American Dietetic Association and is the premier peer-reviewed journal in the field of nutrition and dietetics.

With nearly 70,000 members, the American Dietetic Association is the nation's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. Based in Chicago, ADA serves the public by promoting optimal nutrition, health and well-being. Visit ADA at www.eatright.org.

For more information or to receive a faxed copy of a Journal article, call Kelly Liebbe at 800/877-1600, ext. 4769, or e-mail media@eatright.org. This release is available on ADA's Web site, www.eatright.org/pr.

American Dietetic Association

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