A national study of Australian 14-15 year olds has found that many young people have negative feelings and beliefs about gaining weight.
Eating problems in mid adolescence
While rates of being overweight and obese are increasing, thin or even ‘ultra-thin’ bodies are often idealised in contemporary modern cultures, particularly for women. Trying to achieve this ideal can lead to unhealthy eating behaviours. Eating problems range from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, which can be life threatening, to problematic eating behaviours such as restrictive dieting. Many eating problems develop in adolescence, especially between the ages of 15 and 19. Therefore, intervening early, by promoting healthy eating and nutrition, is crucial for long-term health outcomes.
The purpose of this chapter is to provide a ‘snapshot’ of how young people are faring in relation to eating problems at 14–15 years of age, the types of actions they take to control their weight and the association between those actions, particularly restrictive dieting, and physical and mental health outcomes.
At age 14–15 3% of girls and 1% of boys met the diagnostic criteria for having anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
One in two girls and one in five boys said that they had been afraid of gaining weight in the last four weeks.
Two out of three girls said they would be at least a little concerned, and one in seven said they would be really upset, if they gained one or two kilograms. By contrast, one in two boys said it wouldn’t bother them, and one in seven boys said they would be pleased.
One in four girls and one in 10 boys consciously restricted their food intake to control their weight.
Among 14–15 year olds who engaged in some form of dieting, around two‑thirds of girls and almost half of boys were in the normal weight range. This suggests that most teens diet to either maintain a healthy weight or achieve the thinner body shape typically idealised in Australian society.
Adolescents who were dieting reported more emotional problems, lower levels of school adjustment and more social difficulties than those who were not restricting their food intake.
Authors and Acknowledgements
Featured image: © GettyImages/Steve Debenport
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