Study: Teens Girls Who Read About Dieting More Likely to Use Risky Weight Loss Tactics

Teen girls who often read magazine articles about dieting and weight loss appear to be three times as likely to engage in extreme dieting practices, such as vomiting and using laxatives.

So say University of Minnesota experts, including Patricia van den Berg, Ph.D.

The study doesn't prove the magazines caused teen girls to go on unhealthy diets or use extreme measures to control their weight.

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But parents might want to limit their teenaged daughters' exposure to magazines that prize thinness, and teens should put media images in perspective, van den Berg's team says.

The study appears in Pediatrics' January edition.

Teen Dieting

Researchers looked at 2,516 Minnesota teens, divided roughly equally by sex. The teens were studied for five years, starting when they were about 13-15 years old.

At the study's start, the teens completed surveys about dieting, body image and self-esteem. The survey also included this question: "How often do you read magazine articles in which dieting or weight loss [is] discussed?"

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Forty-four percent of the girls reported reading such articles frequently, compared with 14 percent of the boys.

The researchers also measured the teens' height and weight.

Five years later, the teens completed a follow-up survey.

Unhealthy Dieting

The girls who had most often read magazine articles about dieting and weight loss five years earlier were the most likely to report unhealthy or extreme dieting practices in the follow-up survey.

These girls were twice as likely to engage in unhealthy weight-control behaviors — including fasting, skipping meals and smoking more cigarettes — as girls who never read such articles.

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Extreme weight-control behaviors — including vomiting and using laxatives — were three times as common in the girls who reported frequently reading magazine articles about dieting and weight loss, compared with those who never read such articles.

No such patterns were seen in boys.

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"Frequent reading of magazine articles about dieting/weight loss strongly predicted unhealthy weight-control behaviors in adolescent girls, but not boys, 5 years later," the researchers write.

The study doesn't say which magazines the teens read or whether the weight loss articles promoted healthy or unhealthy dieting.

Future studies should include other forms of media, including TV, say the researchers.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Dr. Louise Chang.

SOURCES: Van den Berg, P. Pediatrics, January 2007; vol. 119: pp e30-e37. News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.