Teens Increasingly Worried About Their Weight

FRIDAY, Nov. 20, 2020 — More adolescents than ever are worried about their weight and are dieting, according to a study published online Nov. 16 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Francesca Solmi, Ph.D., from University College London, and colleagues assessed changes in the prevalence of weight-control behaviors and weight perception between 1986 and 2015. The analysis included 22,503 adolescents (53.6 percent female and 89.9 percent White) participating in one of three longitudinal birth cohort studies.

The researchers found that in 2015, 44.4 percent of participants had dieted and 60.5 percent had exercised to lose weight versus 37.7 and 6.8 percent, respectively, in 1986. Similarly, more were trying to lose weight in 2015 versus 2005 (42.2 versus 28.6 percent). While these behaviors were more common in girls, their prevalence increased more in boys over time (lifetime dieting in boys: odds ratio, 1.79; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.24 to 2.59; lifetime dieting in girls: odds ratio, 1.23; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.91 to 1.66). Over time, adolescents became more likely to overestimate their weight. Among girls, there was an increasing experience of depressive symptoms over time in those who described themselves as overweight versus girls who described their weight as about right.

“These findings suggest that the growing focus on obesity prevention might have had unintended consequences related to weight-control behaviors and poor mental health,” the authors write. “Public health campaigns addressing obesity should include prevention of disordered eating behaviors and be sensitive to negative impact on mental health.”

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