Study: 8 in 10 College Women Diet Regardless of Weight

A new study shows that most college women have dieted, regardless of their current BMI (body mass index).

The study included 185 women studying nutrition at East Carolina University. Most were white. They had their measurements taken and completed surveys about diet, exercise, and pressure to be a certain weight.

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The majority — 83% — reported ever dieting to lose or control their weight, including women with normal BMI (body mass index).

Almost as many — 80% — reported exercising in the last month to lose or control their weight. But only 19% met exercise standards for weight loss, states the study, published online in Nutrition Journal.

"Female college students, regardless of weight status, would benefit from open discussions with health educators to identify healthy and unhealthy diet practices they use," write the researchers.

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They included Brenda Malinauskas, PhD, RD, of East Carolina University's nutrition and hospitality management department.

Women Weigh In

The researchers measured the women's height and weight to calculate BMI. They found that 113 women had a normal BMI, 35 were overweight, and 21 were obese.

Women who said they had ever dieted to lose or control their weight included 80% of those with normal BMI, 91% of overweight women, and 86% of obese women.

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The women reported being nearly 16 years old, on average, when they started dieting. The study doesn't show whether the women were overweight at that age.

Regardless of current BMI, the women said they weighed more than their ideal weight. They also estimated that they would be 2% to 6% heavier if they didn't try to control their weight.

When asked who or what pressured them to be a certain weight, most blamed themselves. The media took second place, followed by participants' friends.

Common Practices

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The five most common weight-related practices for women of all BMI were:

Exercise: 80% Eating or drinking low-fat or fat-free foods and drinks: 59% Consciously eating less than they wanted: 51% Eating or drinking sugar-free foods and drinks: 43% Counting calories: 40%

Unhealthy practices were rarer:

Skipping breakfast: 32% Smoking cigarettes: 9% Vomiting: 5% Using laxatives after eating: 3%

It's not known if the findings apply to other groups of women.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Malinauskas, B. Nutrition Journal, March 31, 2006; online edition. News release, BioMedCentral.