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Dieting teens may turn into dieting adults

June 27, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Extreme dieting behavior, such as taking pills and laxatives, may start in adolescence and then continue into adulthood
Extreme dieting behavior, such as taking pills and laxatives, may start… (Darren Foster )

Teens who diet may not be going through a phase -- they could be continuing that behavior into adulthood, a study finds.

Researchers followed a group of teens -- 1,030 boys and 1,257 girls -- for 10 years. At the beginning of the study, the participants ranged from early to middle adolescence (about 13 to 16), and at the end they were in their early to mid-adulthood (ages 23 to 26).

About half of the girls and one-fourth of the boys said they had dieted in the last year. Those numbers stayed pretty consistent for all girls, but for older boys dieting increased as they got older, going from 21.9% in mid-adolescence to 27.9% in middle young adulthood.

Unhealthful weight control practices included engaging in the following one or more times in the last year: fasting, eating very little food, using food substitutes, skipping meals and smoking. Extreme weight control behavior included taking diet pills, using laxatives or diuretics, or throwing up one or more times.

Older teens actually decreased their unhealthful dieting practices as they went into middle young adulthood, from 60.7% of study participants to 54.4%. But using extreme weight control methods rose among girls, from 8.4% in early adolescence to 20.4% in early young adulthood and from 12.6% in mid-adolescence to 20.6% in middle young adulthood. Older teen boys increased their use of extreme dieting as they got older, from 2.1% of study subjects in mid-adolescence to 7.3% in middle young adulthood.

Diet pill use rose among girls, from 3.3% in early teen years to 12.4% in early young adulthood. Boys used diet pills less often, but rates increased as they aged.

Overall, teens who dieted and had disordered eating habits were at higher risk of carrying them into adulthood compared with teens who didn't diet.

"Within clinical practices, dietitians and other health care providers should be asking about the use of these behaviors prior to adolescence, throughout adolescence, and into young adulthood," said lead author Dianne Neumark-Sztainer of the University of Minnesota in a news release. "Given the growing concern about obesity, it is important to let young people know that dieting and disordered eating behaviors can be counterproductive to weight management. Young people concerned about their weight should be provided with support for healthful eating and physical activity behaviors that can be implemented on a long-term basis, and should be steered away from the use of unhealthy weight control practices."

The study appears in the July issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Assn.

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